The Millsboro Town Council, at a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 29, unanimously agreed to spend no more than $5 million for upgrades to town hall and the police department, and to make the police department its priority.
Among ideas that emerged from the discussion were building a new police department downtown, moving the police into the existing town hall on Wilson Highway, after renovations, or combining town administration offices and the police department.
Councilman Tim Hodges made the motion to not spend more than $5 million, including for planning and design, after saying a budget for the projects had never been established.
The council, with input from Town Manager Sheldon Hudson, debated using funds from transfer tax and money set aside for other projects, such as road improvements, to get as much as $8 million for a new town hall built on Main Street and renovations to the existing town hall so the police department can move in.
But Hodges firmly disagreed, saying town leaders have “grown accustomed to using the transfer tax to balance our budget.”
“If we have slow years ahead, how do we balance our budget? How do we pay our bills? It does not make sense to have a Taj Mahal to live in and not be able to pay your bills. Maybe we could squeeze the money out of something else and get it up to $5 million but, honestly, I don’t see us going above that.
“I’m not here to dig a hole financially for this Town,” Hodges continued. “I think we live within our means or we don’t do anything at all. Our first priority has to be the police department. The chief has already increased the size of the department, or the council has. To make that building work, the chief has already renovated the inside of that building,” Hodges said.
The Town owns property downtown on Main Street, next to the existing police department, earmarked for a new town hall, but no action has been taken in recent months. In July, Councilman Larry Gum told the Coastal Point, “Right now, the figures are so high that we are still in the process. We still haven’t issued any contracts. It’s in progress. It’s not moving real fast, and the police have been real good about waiting.”
Late last year, Hudson said the new town hall could open as soon as 2021, but that 2022 was more realistic. In November last year, council members unanimously approved the new town hall to have two stories and a design with a barn look, and agreed the location will be known as The Gateway.
On Tuesday this week, Hodges said, “I’m not saying we should never build uptown, but I’m saying, right now, with today’s budget, that’s what makes sense. We can build some time in the future.”
Councilman Ron O’Neal agreed.
Councilman John Thoroughgood asked Police Chief Brian Calloway if he could move into the existing town hall and be productive. Calloway said it’s possible, although it would require upgrades to provide security.
Councilman Brad Cordrey suggested using a manufactured home built to suit police needs, but Calloway said thousands of cars go through downtown every day and he’d like to see a nice government building there.
Thoroughgood said the architect “needs to look and see if a new police station is affordable at $4 million or less and we should be in pretty good shape, if the chief is alright with being downtown.”
“I don’t know what else to do except to put it all on hold, and that’s not helping anybody,” Thoroughgood said.
Replying to Calloway, he said it would be less expensive to build a new structure than to patch the existing building, a former post office, that is at least 50 years old.
“Four million dollars is not a little money. I mean, you can buy something for $4 million,” Thoroughgood said.
Thoroughgood said he doesn’t want the Town to get into a position “where we’re paying a lot of money for people to push pencils on paper.”
“You’d be surprised at money wasted on engineering, more than you really need,” he said.
He said one project in Rehoboth Beach ended up being $12 million over budget.
“We can’t afford that kind of mistake. We’re a small town, and we really have to be smart on that,” he said.