Two requests to extend water and sewer lines outside city boundaries were tabled by Milford City Council at a recent meeting. The first was a request from Christiana Excavating who requested the extension south of the Milford Ponds development on Walnut Street and the second was from Colony West/Colony South located north of Milford.
“The properties are not contiguous with the city, therefore they are not eligible to be annexed at this time, but they only have one parcel between them and our current borders,” City Planner Rob Pierce said about the Walnut Street request. “The owner contacted the adjacent property owners to see if there’s any interest in annexing into the city to kind of make this a contiguous request. But they have not received an answer to date. Staff is seeking guidance from City Council on whether to allow this property to connect to the city’s electric water and sewer utility. If permitted, the city would require the property owner to sign an agreement, which would require the properties to annex into the city if and when the properties do become contiguous with our current boundaries.”
Pierce explained that there had been other instances when water and sewer were extended beyond the city boundary, using Baltimore Air Coil as an example. There are also individual homes in Shawnee Acres who are on city water and sewer despite the fact that the development is not annexed into the city.
“I kind of want to digress just a little bit on this. We have two issues before us that deal with extending municipal services outside the city boundaries. I always thought it was our policy not to and I want to point to the next one in the Colony West development. That development is 33 years old, and we put a stipulation there and it’s just not achievable,” Councilman Mike Boyle said. “If and when we come into the city, you will just look at the map. There’s no way in the world the folks are going to come in because there’s so many properties between us and them. And on this one, on the excavating company, they’ve tried to contact the owners of the properties but they got no answer to see if the other people are interested in that. And the other one has been educational because I had the opportunity to read 70 year old transcripts from the council and from the planning commission on the way things used to operate. No way in the world I thought it made sense to send money or water outside the city especially when it goes all the way up there.”
Councilman Boyle continued that he came to realize the owner of the property outside city limits did not have to pay for the water to be installed but was simply able to tap into it.
“That now leads me to a question. How many of these things that we have out there beyond the city limits, that we’re sending utilities to? How many hidden agendas are out there? I have no idea,” Councilman Boyle said. “And I would like to get a list from maybe the utility department they can provide how many companies? How many residencies? How many things are out there that we’re providing the services to it realistically will never come into the city because of geographical location. Or the recipients have just said no I don’t want to.”
Pierce explained that the homes in Shawnee Acres were connected to city water and sewer because DNREC will not issue a permit for a new well or septic system when they fail if there is the availability of central water and sewer. Pierce agreed that the request from Colony West would be the largest served, but most of those receiving city services outside the boundaries were wells or septic systems abandoned as part of a remediation project. Councilman Boyle stated that he was not worried about those types of circumstances but that when a sewer line broke some time ago, it was discovered the city had an agreement with a property owner on Elks Lodge Road and he wanted to know how many of those existed.
“I want to tell a story, and this is before I moved here, I lived in a town in Virginia. It was a small city and there were a lot of old timers. A lot of them didn’t live in the city. There was an old family who lived outside the city with about 1,000 acre farm. They came to council and said, “so, we’re getting old. We’d like to have water brought to our house.” And the city council was really, really good about said, ‘yeah, we’ll bring it to you.’” Councilman Boyle said. “ Not long after, they sold the farm somewhere for like 5,000 housing units. Now the city, because they made the agreement to build a water filtration system by the subdivision. And the agreement was ‘well we’re going to charge a little bit more money because you live outside the city because residents of the city are paying property taxes for that.’ I was paying property taxes for that filtration plant. People outside the city said that it’s unfair to have them pay more money. They paid the same as people inside the city. So, I don’t want to see Milford in a position where we have committed as a course of business to provide things.”
City Solicitor David Rutt pointed out that he lived outside of city limits and had Milford electric. He also reminded council that they installed a loop near Woods Haven to provide water in that area. Councilman Boyle stated that his biggest concern was that Milford was overextending its resources to people who had not paid to install those resources.
“There’s little benefit in annexing into the city unless you get sewer and water. Okay. And if we give it out without requiring you to annex, why would you ever do it,” Councilman Todd Culotta said in agreement with Councilman Boyle. “In Shawnee Acres, would you ever annex into the city unless we made you as soon as you tapped into our water? Now the question I have for Mark is what is the higher rate that those people outside of the city pay that makes it equal? Or do they pay a higher rate?”
Whitfield explained that people outside the city do not pay higher rates for electric, water or sewer than those in town pay. There is an upcharge for drilling outside the city, but not for the service itself. Councilman Culotta stated that he felt that was the point, that if council was going to make the rule that you could not annex unless land was contiguous, council could not then provide city services to land that was not annexed. Councilman Jason James pointed out that Councilman Boyle made good points, that the hook to get people to annex is city services, but after 30 years, the city may have lost that “hook” for Colony West. Councilman Boyle stated that he was not arguing there were not valid reasons for the agreements, but they seemed to be issued with no plan in place. He suggested council table both requests until more information could be provided.
“The plans that are stamped and approved for the project,” Pierce said about the Colony West request before council voted on tabling both requests. “We already provide water service to the townhouses and apartments in Colony West. This is the next phase which was part of that whole development out there that was recorded 20 years ago. They were seeking approval for the construction, public works and we wanted to try to tidy up any of the missing links. So, we prepared an agreement to be signed by Interfaith Housing who still maintains a good majority of the properties up there in an attempt to solidify and get the hook in place that if and when they do become contiguous with it which at this point is one property, we would force them to annex if we’re able to find the water agreement that’s referenced in the minutes. We may already have the hook. But we need to put our hands on the water agreement from 1990.”
Councilman Boyle again stated that it did not appear that Colony West’s property would ever be contiguous to which Pierce explained that there was only one property, one owned by a car dealership, between the development and the city boundary. However, the city had been unable to locate the agreement between the developer and the city from 20 years ago. Pierce questioned whether the developer could challenge the city legally if there was a delay in the vote.
“It’s not a denial,” Rutt said. “There’s not been a vote on this. It’s putting it on the table until further information. If the developer can come up with the initial agreement and provide it, that would be a good thing, too. Right now, we don’t know what that is, so it is not inappropriate to table both of these requests.”
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