Special Development District tax draws crowd to Millville

Normally quiet Millville residents, who number an average of three or four for a typical council meeting each month, came out in droves at their town council workshop this week to voice their opposition to a Special Development District (SDD) tax. And those that couldn’t make it wrote letters — all of which were read into the record.

The subject was on the agenda to refresh the memories of council as there are new members since Millville by the Sea was designated as an SDD in 2009. An ordinance was never passed to levy a tax, issue bonds or fund the district as designating it a district is only the first step.

“The district has been designated but that isn’t the last stop on the train, so to speak,” said town solicitor Seth Thompson.

John Stalfort, of Miles & Stockbridge, an attorney for the town working soley on the bond issue, said they would provide a vehicle to finance public infrastructure such as roads, sewer and water, on a tax-free basis.

Originally, the SDD was discussed as possibly being a vehicle to fund a town hall expansion, and or a police department within the town — both things, the town has done “on its own,” said mayor Gerry Hocker, explaining that the town hall building, the adjacent parking lot and their agreement with the Delaware State police all came after talks of the district and were financed independently with town funds.

“We realize concepts change,” said Hocker. “Our needs have changed as well.” He also mentioned that Millville has the third-lowest tax rate in the state, to which the audience clapped and collectively said “thank you.”

Chuck Ellison of Miller & Smith, the firm who is managing Millville by the Sea, said they have been “revisioning and restructuring since February 2012 and it has been a very difficult challenge.”

When asked what they would do if the bonds were not issued and the tax not levied, he said they had two options: either to find an alternative financing source which he surmised to be “non-existent” or to wait out the economy, to which some residents expressed that Millville by the Sea should do, as they as individual homeowners, and everyone else — has had to do.

Most of the opposition centered around the same general idea — that at conception, Millville by the Sea was going to be a 3,200 home development which would put an additional strain on the town in the way of infrastructure, police and schools — with amenities listed by the dozens — and now was going to be 600-800 homes at best, with nowhere near the promised amenities available.

“Where is that money going to go?” asked resident Steve Maneri, noting that the sales addendum did mention that homeowners “may” be subject to a SDD tax, and which could be up to $125 per month for 20 to 30 years, in addition to the $85 homeowner’s association fee they currently pay.

Ellison said they have “not abandoned” their full Master plan, “it’s just going to take longer than we thought,” saying they are concentrating on the first third. He also said the proposed “lifestyle center” would be financed by the developer and not with any bonds from the SDD funds, should an ordinance go forward.

Stalfort said there would be “next steps,” should the council go forward and adopt an ordinance, but if they did choose to move forward, things could be in place by the end of the year. Hocker said there would be more workshops and discussions on the issue and Thompson reiterated that proper notice would be made before the item be placed on any future agenda and any vote taken.