Millville adds new staff

In a clear indication of how much the town has grown and is expected to grow in the coming years, Millville Town Council members at their Feb. 13 meeting voted to expand the town’s existing staff from two full-time positions, one part-time position and a contractor to three full-time positions and two part-time ones.

Town Manager Linda Collins provided new job descriptions for those positions to the council, emphasizing how much existing staff was beginning to fall behind under the weight of even the current workload.

“We’re with the big guys now,” she told those assembled for the meeting. “We’re going to be a big municipality soon.”

Collins also stressed the need to enhance the duties and qualifications for the positions, to help the town administration run more efficiently and prepare them for the kinds of added scrutiny with which a big municipality has to deal.

“We need someone full-time,” she said of the town’s financial position, which is currently part-time. She said the work of five days was having to be done in five, resulting in the town needing to hire out expensive accounting services and in Collins herself having to do some financial tasks when the part-time position had depleted its hours for the week.

The new “financial administrator” position will have to deal with the big-municipality tasks of an annual audit (coming up in the near future, for the first time) and getting out the growing mountain of tax bills the town begins to send out on each May 1. There’s also a new financial software package to deal with.

Collins said she felt the person filling the position really had to have some considerable background in finance and municipal accounting practices, preferably with an associate’s degree or equivalent training. It’s the same kind of increased financial expertise that nearby Fenwick Island emphasized in its own search for a town manager recently.

Debate over elimination of part-time position

The new position would be a full-time job, and current finance staffer Sue Knox would be eligible to apply for the position, if she so chooses. But the elimination of the part-time position Knox holds, in favor of the full-time position — and specifically the effective date of the change — was a source of fierce debate for the council members on Tuesday.

Deputy Mayor Joan Bennett, who ran the meeting in the absence of outgoing Interim Mayor Tim Droney, said she favored eliminating the part-time position immediately, with the full-time position to be added at a time of Collins’ choosing — likely in the next month or two — and an outside accountant to handle the town’s financial duties in the interim, as Collins had already arranged.

Councilman Gerry Hocker was strongly opposed to that idea, saying, “My father [state Rep. Gerald Hocker] has been in business for 53 years, and he taught me that you treat people like you would want to be treated. The person who is in the part-time position is on vacation right now. This is not right.”

Councilman Richard Thomas agreed with Hocker, while Councilman Don Minyon favored a middle path but was willing to make the change immediately. In multiple votes, no motion on the issue was immediately passed, with council members switching sides based on the exact effectiveness debate in each motion and resulting in several 2-2 tie votes.

Bennett called a halt to the fruitless voting to again ask Collins for some perspective on the need for a full-time finance person and how the part-time position’s shortcomings were impacting work at town hall.

“This change needs to come sooner than later,” Bennett said. “It’s important to remember the needs of the administration of the town. … The town has to function … The town manager would not have made this recommendation without forethought.”

Collins said she had hoped to have the new person in place in the coming weeks, in time to train in the new financial software — no later than April 1 — and do what preparations were needed for the coming audit and the beginning of their fiscal year (along with tax billing) on May 1.

With that, council members shifted to a middle road, agreeing on a 3-1 vote — Hocker still opposed — to end the part-time position effective March 1 and to begin the new full-time position on that date.

Part-time receptionist, code enforcement added

It was an easier time for the switch to a part-time employee of the town for its code enforcement and maintenance needs. Bill Winter will be taken under town hall’s umbrella effective immediately, on a 4-0 vote.

Collins said accountants had expressed concerns about Winter’s status under tax law, with his desk in town hall, use of town staff and the possible addition of a town vehicle for his use in the future. There were also concerns about liability and insurance, with Winter currently working as an independent contractor. He will not get health insurance, which Collins said she was now investigating for all of Millville’s full-time positions, but he will be covered under the town’s liability insurance.

Also among the new positions added on Tuesday, again on a 4-0 vote, was a part-time receptionist position. Collins said the position was on her wish list, as a way to more efficiently handle the workload at town hall, where Knox, Collins and Town Clerk Debbie Botchie currently answer phones and deal with in-person inquiries, in addition to their own specific duties.

Collins said she hoped to have a part-time receptionist help by fielding that work, freeing the other staff for their job-specific duties. Pending the actual hiring of such a person, though, Collins said she was also appealing to town citizens who might be interested in some volunteer work to contact her at town hall if they were able to answer phones, make copies and do other similar work to help lighten the load.

Financial concerns over new positions

Property owner Russell Banks, father of incoming Councilwoman Kami Banks, questioned the council over the addition of the new positions — particularly the full-time finance position. He pointed to neighboring Ocean View’s shortfalls on revenue in a slow real estate market and said he wasn’t sure Millville should take on the new employees in a time when the economy was slow.

Minyon acknowledged those concerns, saying “I know people are concerned. We want to spend our money frugally.” But Minyon said the council had considered the issue at their most recent budget workshop, with input from the town’s financial advisors, and expected the town’s revenues to make the new positions fiscally workable and more efficient for town operation.

“This is a new horizon for us,” Bennett added. Additional budget workshops are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, March 7 and March 14.

Also on Feb. 13:

• Council members unanimously approved Ordinance 07-01, allowing all qualified voters to obtain an absentee ballot to vote in town elections. The next election will be a referendum on the de-annexation of the remaining Millville-incorporated portion of the Lord Baltimore Elementary School Property, which the council proposes to de-annex in favor of neighboring Ocean View. Voting for that referendum will be held at town hall on Saturday, March 3, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Two new members of the town’s Board of Elections were sworn in. Ann Green and Susan Lyons were sworn in Tuesday, with Danny Wharton and alternate member Holly Wingate to be sworn in on a future date. The board members are to undergo training prior to the March 3 referendum.
• Council members voted to defer action on the town’s first draft personnel manual and on a public works agreement that would detail the responsibility of developers regarding subdivision infrastructure, such as streets. In both cases, council members said they’d like to have additional time to review the draft documents and clean them up before adoption. They will be deferred for action at the council’s March meeting.
• The council also voted unanimously to adopt a revised fee schedule, the major revision in which was the increase in annexation fees from $750 to $850, primarily to cover the postage costs of the newly-required certified letters to surrounding property owners and staff time to send those. Some 35 letters were required on the pending Millville By the Sea phase addition, and 20 such letters were estimated as an average for future annexation applications.
• Council members gave their formal approval to a new annexation checklist that is designed to guide the town, its staff, the Annexation Committee and applicants through the newly structured process. Minyon, who chairs the committee, said he felt the checklist would ensure the same process was being followed for all annexations in the future.
• Bennett reported that the council had been advised to include new ordinances regarding the moving of structures in the town and regarding permitted construction hours into the subdivision and zoning codes that the council is currently drafting for adoption. They may be adopted this spring, she said.
• While the town is still holding back on its regular annual donation to the Millville Volunteer Fire Company and ambulance service, Collins reported a $3,000 donation made from permit revenues from the previous quarter. The town will wait for the end of its fiscal year to see what amount will arise from the 3 percent cap on donations to either the fire or ambulance services, before making those respective annual donations.
• Collins reported on a recent visit to the new Ocean View police station, now under construction. She praised the facility and OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin, saying she was very impressed with how they had looked to the future and calling the design “top of the line.” Collins said she had also visited with Ocean View town staff in preparation for her top-priority project of the year: developing a town Web site. “We are living in the Dark Ages without a Web site,” she said.
• The ZIP codes for town residents are also on Collins’ list of work. She is working with the U.S. Postal Service to consolidate all town residences under the 19967 ZIP code, from what she said was a confusing combination of 19945, 19970 and 19967 ZIP codes now.
• Botchie thanked Collins and Bennett for allowing her to attend a recent conference of municipal clerks. With the conference, Botchie has earned 41 of the needed 120 credit hours required to become a certified municipal clerk.
• Collins said recent meetings of the town’s Emergency Operations Committee, with “invaluable” input from the MVFC, had resulted in new booklets on emergency preparedness that she planned to distribute to those coming out to vote on March 3 and by mail to others in the town. The committee meets on the third Tuesday of every month, at 4 p.m.