Public safety, infrastructure, business incentives prevalent in Millsboro budget

MILLSBORO – The town of Millsboro’s fiscal year 2018-19 operating budget is officially in place, with heavy emphasis on public safety, infrastructure, downtown enhancement, commercial retail enticement and business-friendly incentives.

Town council July 2 unanimously adopted the approximate $8.5 million operating budget.

The town’s spending plan includes substantial funding for infrastructure upgrades, about $1.65 million for public safety/police and approximately $1 million for repaving and two sidewalk projects in the downtown area.

On the capital side, that budget is about $3.25 million, which includes funding for new infrastructure and money budgeted for the police station project.

“There is a lot of good investments in the budget this year: infrastructure investment, especially sewer upgrades,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “We want to start swapping out old mains and pumping stations.”

Packaged in the budget is $50,000 for a one-year contractual agreement with Buxton, a Texas-based analytics firm that town leaders hope will help match the town with prospective new retailers.

Another $50,000 lump sum is budgeted for a sign replacement/improvement program, designed to assist business owners make upgrades. Grant funding – maximum $2,000 per property – may be utilized for improvements such as lighting replacement, outright sign replacement and even demolition to make way for new signage. Grants may also be used for eligible businesses with awning signs, Mr. Hudson said.

“Instead of wagging the code enforcement finger, why not try to find ways to incentivize raising the bar?” said Mr. Hudson. “This is kind of the town’s thinking behind this grant program: Do it in a business-friendly way instead of a punitive way.”

A continuation of the Delaware Department of Transportation’s State Street project, the town’s downtown improvement project will entail sidewalks, street lighting enhancement and decorative pavers. This project is scheduled to begin this fall with improvements on both sides of Main Street from State Street to Church Street. Then next spring, the plan encompasses Sussex Alley to Ellis Street along State Street.

Approximately $500,000 is budgeted for street paving. Sidewalk projects on Main and State streets are another $500,000. “So total, street paving and these two independent sidewalk projects would be right around $1 million,” said Matthew Hall, Millsboro finance officer.

At present, the town is leaning toward a new police headquarters. The current station is located downtown in the 300 block of Main Street between Main and Washington streets.

“Probably, a new police station,” said Mr. Hudson. “We had our consultant look at the property and the building. He seemed to think it would be more cost-effective to go with a completely new structure. So that is the plan I would say at this point.”

“We’re still in the design phase. There is still some back-and-forth between how big, and what features it should have. It’s still being actively re-designed,” said Mr. Hall.

As for infrastructure, Mr. Hall said the big one is on the sewer side. “We have a couple pump stations that are going to be redone or started in this next year,” he said.

Major revenue sources are property taxes and water and sewer, along assorted grants.

The 2018-19 budget is up just over $1.2 million from this past fiscal year’s $7.25 operating budget. Proportionally, that is attributed in large part to Millsboro’s growth. Based on Census data, Millsboro is growing at 10 or more percent a year in population.

This year’s budget increase covers a number of one-time expenses. These include three new police vehicles, two additional public works pick-up trucks, planning and/or construction money for a new water plant, one or more new wells, new police station funding, a new pumping station to replace an aging infrastructure, additional pumping stations, a new water tower, paving improvements for Monroe Street, pavers and lighting on Main Street, sewer line replacement, generators for pumping stations, water tower maintenance, new Christmas decorations, new pole lights and funding for a potential new park.

“So, a lot of the expenses this year are one-time,” Mr. Hudson said.

Despite the budget increase, there is no change in the tax rate. The town’s property tax rate for the third consecutive year will remain at 33 cents per $100 of assessed value. Town of Millsboro property values are based on 2015 assessments.

“We went through the reassessment that brought it up from 1992. This is our third year on the new assessed values,” said Mr. Hall. “It has been at 33 cents for three years, which has been as long as we have been using this new assessed value. Previously, we were at 56 cents (per $100 of assessed value). When we re-evaluated from 1992 in 2015, the majority of assessments went up, so we needed to lower the tax rate to collect the same amount of revenue.”

In addition, town council approved a decrease in the variance application fee. It drops from $1,000 to $700, which would rank Millsboro among the lowest in the county.

“Again, it is another business-friendly step to encourage folks to market their business the way they best see fit,” said Mr. Hudson.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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