Millville discusses improvements to addition, budget

Millville Town Council members last week considered a bid for installation of a wheelchair stair lift at town hall that would provide access for the wheelchair-bound to the second floor of the renovated town hall.

The only bid received was from Delaware Elevator, for $22,700.

“This is the only one we received that met all the specifications for the bid, and it was the lowest,” said Town Manager Debbie Botchie.

“It seemed like a skeleton bid,” cautioned Councilman Jon Subity about the bid. “They don’t do the electric cost.”

Botchie said she had already spoken with Jerome Hudson, who planned to send the Town an official cost estimate for the electrical work but expected the work to run between $600 and $700.

Subity also voiced his concern for spending money on making the upstairs of the town hall addition accessible, when it cannot be occupied at present, due to its lack of sprinklers.

“I’d hate to see us spend upwards of $20,000 and then it would be completely useless — it would never be used. It’s my opinion that we should table this until we have a more definite plan, a more definite need for the upstairs. Am I correct in that, if we don’t have sprinklers, it can’t be used for anything anyway?”

“Pretty much, yes,” responded Botchie.

“Unless we’re going to do the sprinkler system, this is a waste of money,” said Councilman Robert Gordon, agreeing with Subity.

Councilwoman Joan Bennett said she would like council to support the installation of the chairlift, as to make an effort to get the upstairs useable for the Town and residents.

“If we do not improve it by way of access to the second floor, by way of this chair lift, and if we do not do the appropriate things to make it fire-safe, by a sprinkler system, I think the Town has been done wrong,” she said. “I’d like to move forward with this chairlift and water system… to get that addition up to speed so that it is right and useable.”

Mayor Gerry Hocker agreed that council has to get the upstairs in working order but suggested the council table the discussion until they have more information on the installation of a sprinkler system.

“I think we are all in agreement that we do need to get that upstairs functional before we can do anything. And to get the upstairs functional, we have to have a water system. I think the water system is going to take a lot more time.”

The council voted 4-1, with Bennett in opposition, to table the decision about installation of a wheelchair lift until after the council vote on the water system.

Bennett at this week’s meeting also asked other council members if they would consider paving the parking lot at town hall, to replace the small stones that currently cover the lot.

“It’s not the most secure thing for us to walk on,” she said. “For snowstorms — what it would be like to have it plowed? It would be a mess,” she said, adding that it would be for inconvenient for town employees.

Councilman Richard Thomas said he agreed that a paved lot would be better for town activities but added that he wouldn’t want the resulting retaining pond to take up some of the parking lot area.

“Our code does say if you disturb more than 5,000 square feet you do have to have a stormwater pond,” confirmed Botchie.

Gordon said he wasn’t sure paving would be better than the stone that is currently on the lot.

“Stone would probably melt the snow faster,” he said. “Paving would make it hotter for the farmers’ market.”

The council did not take action this week on the issue of paving the parking lot.

At the meeting, the council also reviewed the Policy and Procedure Manual for the Millville Volunteers. Gordon, who is the council’s liaison with the group, said that the manual is on its second draft and has been edited down from 24 pages to 18.

“It’s something I think we need to do. Some of the wording in the first draft — it was up to this council to sit and make recommendations for the volunteers… I think that’s a waste of council’s time and efforts. To me, it’s a work in progress,” he said. “As the liaison, I think it is my responsibility, quarterly, to report to the council on what the volunteers are doing, where they’re going, make sure that they go out of the area, there’s insurance, and report back any concerns or ‘attaboys’ we get from the state police for Camp Barnes and the other areas that we do.”

Bennett said that she looks at the manual as something that gives basic guidelines to the volunteers but also as something that needs to protect the Town and its volunteers.

“Much of it is nuts and bolts, in terms of what the volunteers need to do when they are in a situation of practicality. However, I also see this document as being something that needs to be crafted in such a way that, for liability purposes, it protects both the volunteers and the Town. I think it’s necessary and appropriate that certain things be spelled out that ensure certain protections… for everyone’s protection.”

Hocker said he looked at the manual as a document that would benefit the town’s volunteers and the Town in three different ways.

“First and foremost, my thought is the safety of the volunteers – that’s what we need to be most concerned with. Secondly, the liability of the town. Thirdly, establishing the procedures that give them the guidance and governance.”

He asked if the drafts had been reviewed by the town solicitor. Botchie said that she could review the two drafts and combine them for council to review at the town’s workshop on March 27.

Also at this week’s council meeting, Botchie and Financial Administrator Betsy Christian presented the council with information on the upcoming budget for the 2013 fiscal year.

“We found no need for the Town to raise property taxes or any other kinds of fees associated with us for this year’s budget,” said Botchie.

She added that the Town has a conservative budget and, this past year, it took in more money than was budgeted. Referencing building permits, Botchie said the town had reduced expected revenue from business permits.

She explained that, in order to get an estimate for what the Town would receive from building permits, Town officials speak with the developers within the town to get their goal for the number of units to be sold for the upcoming year and the average square footage of the homes, and they then calculate approximately what they can expect to take in for permits.

“This year, the whole revenue side really took a turn higher than what we expected,” she said. “It was even more than what the builders expected they would do this year. I know I am a conservative person when it comes to revenue. We look at the figure budgeted at $104,000 this year, versus last year’s budget of $110,000, and we got in $245,000. It’s a huge difference – huge.”

Bennett asked if there have been any issues with the Town’s auditors, regarding the difference between what is budgeted and what is actually received.

“They question big swings in actuals, but they don’t question differences between the budget and the actuals,” responded Christian. “Especially with revenue, we like to be conservative, because it’s better to end up getting more than you plan on than be in a position like several other towns who think they’re going to be getting all this money and start spending it before they have it, then go, ‘Oops, we didn’t get as much as we used to.’”

Botchie said the Town is going to continue to place 5 percent of transfer taxes received into its economic development fund, which started out at $14,000 and is now at $25,000.

She noted that, through a revenue-sharing grant, the Town is eligible to receive $11,250 in reimbursements as a municipality that has to outsource for public safety coverage. Botchie also added that the Town would not be filing for a DEMA grant this coming year.

Discussing expenses, Botchie stated the Town was doing well overall, until it took action against the Delaware Department of Transportation regarding an agreement for the Town to donate Town-owned right-of-way interests necessary to the Route 26 Mainline improvements project.

“There are times that we come across and have to spend monies that aren’t budgeted. We were doing very well with that until we go into the situation with DelDOT,” she said, noting that, to date, the town has spent $4,417.63 for legal services. “That was monies that we did not budget for. That was monies that we did not know we were going to spend, and we’re not finished with it yet.”

The town council will have to approve their final budget by the end of April. But the mayor suggested the path would be a simple one.

“You guys make it too easy on us,” said Hocker of the town staff.