Millville adopts budget, adds staff and MBS phase

Millville Town Council members on Tuesday, April 10, adopted the towns largest-ever budget, coming in at $393,500 for the 2008 fiscal year.

The growth in the town’s budget reflects the growth in its boundaries and local development as a whole — with revenue anticipated to grow 44 percent from the $273,375 in the 2007 budget — even beyond the $300,392 received by the town as of Dec. 31, 2006.

Nearly every area of town revenue saw a jump above budget projections in the 2007 fiscal year, with business license fees coming in at 561 percent of anticipated revenue through the end of the calendar year and permit fees coming in at nearly double the budgeted amount in that period.

Millville still expects to bring in a half-million dollars in transfer taxes in the 2008 fiscal year, having collected $493,276 through Dec. 31. The town has $995,429 in transfer tax revenue already available, bringing its anticipated total through 2008 to nearly $1.5 million.

With no police department, no planned capital expenses and no public works department, the town expects to keep nearly all of that money in the bank in the coming year. At least $50,000 is expected to be put into the town’s police fund under the 2008 budget, but at 10 percent of transfer tax revenue, the town collected $74,000 toward the fund through Dec. 31, so the figure is likely to be larger.

The town also plans to donate some $5,000 to the Millville Volunteer Fire Company for fire and ambulance service, in addition to the 10 percent of building and permit fees that the town has promised the department — up to a cap of 3 percent of its total real estate-related revenue for each of the two services, with an estimated figure of $10,000 under that agreement in 2008.

Millville’s major expenses come under professional services (primarily the town engineer) and employee payroll and benefits.

Indeed, council members on April 10 also voted to officially create a part-time financial administrator position, and to hire someone for that job and a part-time receptionist position. Town Clerk Debbie Botchie will also be joined this fiscal year by formerly part-time Town Manager Linda Collins as the town’s only full-time employees. Bill Winters remains their part-time code enforcement and maintenance person.

The lone dissenting vote on the financial administrator position — as well as the proposed budget in which the expenditures for the position were contained — came from Councilwoman Joan Bennett, who had strongly supported Collins’ request for a full-time financial administrator.

The previous council had, as a whole, also supported that request initially, though it was not without considerable debate and consternation. In a series of close votes, the council in January had finally voted for the creation of the full-time position.

But in a case of voters’ remorse, the reformed council voted last month to retract that vote and not approve the new full-time finance position. Bennett also opposed that vote.

Instead, new Mayor Donald Minyon suggested the council consider a part-time position with increased qualifications, in hopes of hiring someone who could do the larger job in a similar amount of time as the previous part-time position. Concerns about the town’s budget and moving too quickly to grow staff were cited in the decision.

The town netted five applicants for the position in the meantime, including three certified public accountants, and proceeded with a vote Tuesday night to formally add the part-time position in place of that controversial full-time position.

Bennett noted in her opposing vote that she had voted against the idea solely because she felt a full-time finance person was needed in the growing town and that it had been suitably recommended by the town manager.

She extended that objection into the vote on the budget, citing the $28,000 contingency allotment that she said she felt could have been better used to move the position from part-time to full-time.

New financial administrator hired

There was no division on the council’s vote to approve the candidate recommended for that position by an interview committee comprising Collins, Minyon, Councilman Richard Thomas and town accountant Paul Willison. The council voted unanimously to hire Anne Marie Adelman as the new part-time financial administrator for Millville.

Adelman is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. She holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University and is one of the three CPA’s who had applied for the job. Adelman most recently worked for the Fairfax County (Va.) public school system, handling significantly higher financial figures than even Millville will task her with in the near future, Minyon noted.

She is set to start work as of the town’s May 1 fiscal-year start, which will coincide with the beginning of tax billing season and the town’s first audit — for which Collins said Willison had declared them in good shape, after an overhaul of town records and record-keeping practices.

Council members also gave the unanimous thumbs-up to the hiring of the town’s new part-time receptionist — a position geared to taking some of the peripheral workload off Botchie and Collins by helping to answer phones and greet visitors at town hall.

Richard Wright, who is one of five citizens who have regularly been volunteering their time for receptionist duties at town hall, was selected to take the part-time paid position. Minyon noted that Wright has a background in government and computers, and was expected to make a great first impression on visitors at the town hall.

“How can we go wrong with Richard Wright?” Minyon joked. Collins thanked the council members for the completion of the town hall team and noted physical reorganization of the town hall offices to best suit the new job descriptions and required public access to officials.

Bennett, while voting in agreement with both new hires, added another leg to her objection to the proposed budget over the included honorarium for town council members.

The council has been getting a $25-per-meeting stipend but that was proposed to change to $50 per month, in recognition of a new monthly council workshop and numerous committee meetings and other council functions being added to their schedules.

Bennett said she opposed the council members taking any money at all from the town for their service. She noted that she had returned the $500-plus check she had received in payment of the honorarium in December 2006 and planned to return any future payments of the stipend.

She voted against the adoption of the new honorarium, and added that objection to the list of her reasons for voting against the proposed budget. But she was alone in those objections, and each measure passed 4-1.

Millville By the Sea growing steadily

After months of meetings on possible annexation of another phase of Millville By the Sea, council members on April 10 took action on the final recommendation of the Annexation Committee (comprising Minyon, Thomas and Deputy Mayor Gerry Hocker) to approve the annexation.

In a unanimous vote, the council approved not only annexing the 168 acres of land — located on the southwest corner of Route 17 and Powell Farm Road — but in changing its zoning from Agricultural to Master Planned Community (MPC) to match the rest of MBS.

The phase was initially part of the overall MBS plan that was presented to the town but was removed from early annexation requests until some issues with the property could be cleared up. That done, the Millville Group requested the town include the phase as part of the town and the rest of its overall project.

The annexation is conditional, requiring that several final hurdles that will allow the town to finalize the annexation be overcome.

First, the town will have to have its designated growth areas, under its comprehensive plan, amended to include the new area. An April 25 hearing has been scheduled on that request, at the state level, with a decision on the request expected that day.

Secondly, the Office of State Planning Coordination (OSPC) requested additional comments from Sussex County engineers regarding the provision of sewer service for the phase, expanded from earlier comments on only a portion of the acreage. Once those comments are received, and once the town’s annexation area is amended, the OSPC can give its approval for the annexation.

Collins said that OSPC staff had already all but guaranteed that approval, once the remaining issues are taken care of. With the vote cast Tuesday, the council will not have to take further action when that happens. Collins will simply file notice of the annexation with state and county agencies.

No citizens spoke for or against the proposed annexation and rezoning at the public hearing held at the head of the April 10 meeting. Committee members had soundly approved of the idea, considering it a plus for the town and the completion of a project they already consider a positive for its citizens.

Commendations given, changes in the works

The council on Tuesday also passed a resolution declaring April 29 through May 5 as Municipal Clerk’s Week, in honor of Botchie.

Minyon noted the expectation that the council will vote at their May meeting on new ordinances regarding the moving of structures within the town and the permitted hours of construction, after additional work at their April council workshop. Changes to the town’s subdivision and zoning codes, and to its zoning map, and work on its comprehensive plan are all in the hands of the town engineer or town solicitor, he said, with expectations of possible May action.

Council members did get back the latest draft of a public works agreement form that lays out the responsibilities of developers when building inside town limits. Minyon noted some late-coming comments from the Millville Group, prior to the unanimous adoption of the proposed form.

Collins reported that she had received two bids for development of a town Web site and was expecting one more. She said she anticipated getting the town Web site up and running by the summer, with the ability for updates instantly and directly from town hall.

The town manager also noted that town residents can expect to receive a survey from the New Jersey office of the U.S. Postal Service, regarding a possible ZIP code change.

Collins has been pursuing a change for all those living within town limits, to the 19967 area code, as opposed to the many varied ZIP codes that currently exist in the town. Also noted at the meeting was continuing confusion by many of those who live outside town limits about where their official address is located.

Some who received new addresses as a result of county-wide 911 readdressing have discovered that they have been reassigned from a Millville designation to an Ocean View designation, or vice versa.

Town Solicitor Mary Robin Schrider-Fox noted that she was one of those affected by the change in mailing address, but that she is considered to live in unincorporated Sussex County — not inside Millville town limits or in Ocean View, either. Residents in those locations do not pay town taxes or receive town services, aside from incidental police response. They are under the purview of the county.

The town’s Emergency Operations Committee has continued to make available emergency information packets for residents, and the committee has commenced work on a town emergency plan, which is required for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Collins reported that Code Enforcement Officer Bill Winter had been meeting with representative of Millville Town Center regarding the addition of stop and yield signs in the parking lot, to help make for safer traffic there.

Winter had also met with Delaware Department of Transportation Officials recently, to discuss plans for a “No Left Turn” sign for the intersection of Route 26 and Cedar Drive. Winter is also working with DelDOT on possible drainage improvements on Cedar, after flooding problems were reported in the wake of development of two previously undeveloped lots.

Collins said Winter has also been working on a design for the new town hall sign that would be paid for by a grant from Sussex County, as well as possible expansion designs for town hall, which she said has reached capacity.

Nearby resident Bruce Sheppard again asked council members to take action to stop the building of a Home Depot on the town’s edge off Route 17, citing problems with an entrance request currently under DelDOT review and the entire commercial zoning of the parcel. Minyon responded that the previous council had voted on the issue and that the current council could not reverse that decision now.

Finally, council members, state Rep. Gerald Hocker, Ocean View Mayor Gary Meredith and Councilman Bill Wichmann, town hall staff and residents joined in thanking former Councilman and Interim Mayor Tim Droney for 20 years of service to Millville.

Hocker read words from the state House that noted Droney’s efforts to revive code enforcement in the town, while Minyon read from a commendation for Droney from Sussex County Council. The town also provided him with a plaque and presented his council nameplate to Droney’s wife, before all sampled a cake decorated with Droney’s image and a variety of snacks and beverages.