Millville narrowly approves pre-assessment of options

The Millville Town Council will be hiring a consultant to assess the Town’s possible need and options for future public safety patrols. Deputy Mayor Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr., at the council’s Feb. 8 meeting, said that, in the last council workshop, “everyone seemed to be in support of doing a study and cost analysis of our town’s police department.”

The original estimate of the cost for a full study is about $6,400. However, the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommended the town begin with a $650 pre-study.

On Feb. 8, Hocker recommended the town invite the consultant to attend a workshop, discuss the town’s plans and its current state of public safety, and compile a report for the lesser fee.

That consultant would be the same person who reviewed public safety needs in Ocean View, so the council acknowledged that he would already be familiar with the area. The IACP has data on the costs of everything from hiring officers to equipping police cars.

With the pre-study, the town could make a decision whether to continue with part-time policing from the Delaware State Police, partner with Ocean View or consider creating its own police department.

Councilman Jon Subity asked whether the town must explain what it wants, or would the reviewer tell the town what is needed. He said he was concerned that the council is not ready to say what it wants, not whether it could afford what would be recommended.

Town Manager Debbie Botchie said the town would receive a written report, in which a reviewer would examine the town demographics and budget, and then provide a recommendation saying, “This is what we feel you should do.”

Councilman Mike Jeffers acknowledged that Ocean View has been “very generous” with sharing its data. He said, “It’s the threat assessment I’m most interested in.”

Botchie confirmed that the study will examine the town’s emergency history, specifically regarding when the state police were called and why. Currently, most violations reported by the police patrols are minor traffic violations.

Town Solicitor Seth Thompson noted on Tuesday that having more police present in the town could result in more arrests. Conversely, there may be fewer arrests, with crime deterrence coming into play.

Mayor Don Minyon said it was ultimately a matter of what taxpayers want, and what such action would do to taxes.

Jeffers voted against the measure, not because he has “an aversion to public safety,” he said, but because he viewed this study as “a step down a road we don’t want to take.”

Looking at neighboring towns, Jeffers said, he considered major public safety action a “non-trivial expense” that could result in unsustainable tax increases and heavy capital expenditures. He said he preferred to consider other routes at manageable costs, such as a partnership with Ocean View.

Subity also voted against the measure.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea,” Subity said. “I just don’t think we have enough information.”

Councilman Richard Thomas voted in favor. Having reviewed Ocean View data and talking to various people, he said, he is “interested in a next step” in the decision-making process.

Minyon voted in favor, with the stipulation that there be citizen involvement in future decision-making.

Hocker agreed that the community will be included. He added that he has no opinion on which eventual route the town should take in regard to public safety. However, he noted, no one on the council has much experience with public safety.

“This is for the long haul,” Hocker said. “I’m after the data so we could … make an educated decision.”

The motion passed 3-2, authorizing the town to invite an IACP appraiser to attend a workshop meeting for the purpose of compiling a recommendation, at the cost of $650.

The town council on Feb. 8 also discussed and voted on a three-year extension for the final site plans of Dove Landing Residential Planned Community. The town code states that a subdivision is deemed “null and void after three years of recording, unless substantial construction is in place.”

The final site plan for Dove Landing was approved in December of 2007 and recorded early in 2008. Due to the economic downturn, the developer requested an extension to continue construction.

Steve Marsh, an engineer at George, Miles & Buhr, and Steve Grodbeck of Beazer Homes addressed the council. They said the Beazer has “every intention of completing” the community. Yet, before it continues with Dove Landing, the company wants to focus on establishing Barrington Park and even hopes to begin moving people in there by the end of 2011.

Beazer will use the extra time to examine market adjustments and to build momentum, they said.

Construction is supposed begin this year on Dove Landing’s entrance into the right-of-way. Completion of the entranceway will help the developers to “get a foothold” on the project and conclude dealings with DelDOT, they said.

Minyon said he appreciated that Beazer has “been fair with the town in keeping up with taxes and fees and keeping the town apprised.”

“If we approve three years, what happens after three years?” asked Thomas. “I’m in the construction business as a consultant. Are we gonna be back in three years?”

Marsh and Grodbeck said Beazer already has a lot of money invested in this project, so the company wants to be ready to move forward when the market improves.

The council voted to approve the three-year extension for the site plans of Dove Landing RPC. Jeffers and Subity recused themselves, and the motion passed 3-0.

Also on Feb. 8, Minyon and Jeffers announced that they will not seek re-election when their terms expire in March.

Minyon said to the council, “I would like to thank Mike [Jeffers] for two years of service,” adding that Jeffers often “brought up good points” in discussion at council meetings.

“In fact, I would like to thank the whole council. I can’t remember a time when I thought we were going to have a battle,” Minyon continued, explaining that — even when in disagreement — council members had never been anything but civil at meetings.

Also at the Feb. 8 meeting:

• The Town Council voted 5-0 to approve an application from Rich Bloch for a Permitted Accessory Use Permit in conjunction with his performing arts theater. The Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended approval, with conditions. Pending receipt of an occupancy permit, the Dickens Parlour Theatre plans to expand operations with a banquet facility, at 35715 Atlantic Avenue. Council members wished Bloch luck in the endeavor. Bloch thanked the council and community for continued support of the theater.

• Minyon reported that he had recently met with Gov. Jack Markell and will ask First Lady Carla Markell, who is an advocate of volunteerism, to visit the town again soon. Minyon also praised the MillVols volunteer group for assisting at the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge on Feb. 6. He said the group may adopt a long-term project of fixing up Camp Barnes, which could involve cleaning, re-painting and some maintenance.

• This year’s Pumpkin Festival is scheduled for Oct. 1. It will be one week early, so the Millville Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary will not have to compete with the Apple-Scrapple Festival for indoor vendors. The Pumpkin Festival Committee has changed its meeting day to the second Tuesday of each month because the town manager will be present then to open the building.

• The next Millville Business Breakfast will be Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 7:30 a.m. The thrice-yearly event is designed to allow Millville business owners to maintain contact with the council and each other. This week, Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin and Sgt. Heath Hall will give a short presentation on how to keep businesses safe. Business owners can also see the new addition to Millville Town Hall during the breakfast.

• Discussion and a possible vote on the sale of the town’s garage will be moved to the Feb. 22 workshop.

• As part of proposed changes to the town’s Personnel Manual, Good Friday will be removed as a holiday, a change Botchie noted was approved one year ago. Also, sick leave will be taken in increments of one hour, instead of one full day. The changes were approved in a 5-0 vote.

The next Town Council Workshop will be on Feb. 22 at 7 a.m.