If the Town of Millsboro’s proposed referendum, to borrow $38 million, is approved by town residents, they could see a slight increase in water and sewer rates, but less than $1 per quarter and probably not applied for the next several years.
“The absolute worst-case scenario would be a 70-cent increase, but it is too soon to say for sure,” Matt Hall, director of finance and technology for the Town, told the Coastal Point after the Monday, Oct. 4, town council meeting, during which a video was shown and public hearing held to explain why the Town needs the money.
It would be used to build a new police station, to construct a sewer plant and to pay for the replacement of aging sewer and water mains, some more than 60 years old.
Hall said there would not be a quick, major tax increase if the referendum passed, because money could be borrowed over the course of 20 or 30 years, and because federal loans, such as a USDA loan, offer debt forgiveness to borrowers. Also, federal officials try not to burden taxpayers when money is needed for municipal upgrades, he said.
“The referendum would give Council authority to borrow over time, but if it passes, it doesn’t mean there would be an increase right away. We don’t even have any loan applications in yet. We don’t even have the capacity to do all of these upgrades at one time, so they would be done over time. Theoretically, there could be a property tax rate increase, because some of the money will be borrowed for the police station, but it will depend on how the loan is structured. It might not impact taxes at all,” Hall said.
The referendum vote will be on Saturday, Nov. 20, at Millsboro Town Hall.
There will also be a special council meeting during which the video will be played again and public comments again accepted. It will be at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18, also at town hall.
During the public hearing portion of the council meeting on Monday, after the video was shown, Millsboro resident Marty Presley asked about possible increases for taxpayers and wanted to know how many homes are in Millsboro. Mayor Michelle Truitt said there are about 7,000 residents, and Hall said there are about 2,100 homes, including 1,300 in Plantation Lakes, where Presley lives.
Presley said Plantation Lakes homeowners are required to pay an annual fee for upkeep of the infrastructure in that community and asked if they would still have to pay any increase the Town imposed. Truitt said they would, that any increase resulting from the referendum would be in addition to what Plantation Lakes charges.
Also during the public hearing, resident Katie Thomas said she believes local schools are going to be outgrown and there is a need for better internet for students.
“There are kids who have to go to the school parking lot to do their homework because they have no internet — not because they can’t afford it, but because it isn’t available to them,” she said, urging the Town to use funds to work on getting internet access expanded.
Resident Mary Anderson said Millsboro received $2.4 million from the federal government, as aid during the pandemic, and she believes it could be used for the internet. She said she would like to know how the Town plans to use the federal grant money.
The video shown at the meeting included comments by Truitt, Hudson, Director of Public Works Kenny Niblett and Police Chief Brian Calloway.
Calloway talked about the history of the police department and how overcrowded it is. Built in 1972 as a post office, the building, on Main Street downtown was adequate for police years ago, when there were nine or 10 officers, but the force has grown to 19 officers, with plans to increase that number to 21 next year.
In 2018, the existing police department was renovated by staff, “but as the Town’s needs changed, so did our police department,” Calloway said.
“I’m to the point now where I can’t do anything else,” he said of the available space. “And if anybody would like to look at our building, please come in and I will show it to you,” Calloway told the audience after the video.
Calloway showed the architect’s rendering of the new police department, planned to be built on Town property at Ellis Street and Railroad Avenue, with enough space for a conference room and processing of those arrested. Calloway said it will be large enough to serve the Town for the next 10 to 20 years.
Millsboro is embarking on construction of a new water treatment plant, Niblett said in the video. Most of the water system’s pipes have been in the ground since 1964, and upgrades are badly needed, Niblett said.
“It’s hard to believe Millsboro water mains are still in functional use after all these years,” he said, adding that, if the referendum doesn’t pass, there could be catastrophic failure of the water and sewer system.
Hudson said the Town is also working on revitalizing the downtown area, to attract more businesses and increase property values.
“Historically, the town council has used taxpayer funds conservatively to pay for needed projects over the years to meet the needs of our residents,” Mayor Michelle Truitt told the Coastal Point.
“The addition of a dog park, new sidewalks with new water mains underneath, installation of a million-gallon water tower, current installation of a second water plant and new pump stations, as well as work on a stormwater management program for our areas prone to flooding, have been the focus for Council in the last few years,” Truitt said.
“Using our Strategic Plan, we have identified three larger projects that we simply cannot tackle with the current budget,” Truitt said.
She listed them as (1) replacing special water and sewer mains remaining from the original 1964 installation; (2) enhancing the current sewer plant to promote more “green” initiatives, such as using more reclaimed water for irrigation and reusing biosolids as compost fertilizer that the public can purchase for home use, and (3) building a new, modern police station that will accommodate officers’ needs, as well as those of resident.
“The town council views all three projects as critical, with lasting effects on our town. Therefore, we are asking for the ability to borrow up to $38 million incrementally over the next few years,” she explained. “If we can do those three projects cheaper, we will certainly not borrow any more than is vitally necessary.
“Keeping that in mind, that we, council members, are taxpayers, too, we do not like to raise rates or taxes unless there is no alternative. We have explored reducing the budget, prioritizing projects in our Strategic Plan, writing grants, event talking to legislators at the state and federal levels about possible funding sources — to no avail.
“Therefore, we are turning to our residents and property owners with an Infrastructure & Capital Improvements Referendum,” Truitt said, adding that she wanted to emphasize that state legislators have been helpful to Millsboro in several ways, including by granting money to install lights on dimly lit streets throughout the town.
Town and state officials have also been working together to find means of sewage disposable that is environmentally friendly.
The Town has been using spray irrigation but will now explore ways to recycle sewage into reclaimed water that could be sold at a reduced cost, and used to water crops and tree farms, as well as ways to turn biosolids into compost.
“We will be recycling sewage in different ways. I don’t want anyone to think it’s sludge, because it isn’t. We are going to see if we can do it in-house. We are looking at writing grants, but we are not sure about the cost yet. We will be trying to phase it in so the initial cost isn’t so great. We’ve been trying to think outside box about what’s good for the environment and good for the town,” she said.
If the referendum passes, it could mean the council will spend more than the $5 million previously decided upon for the police station. Calloway this week said that an additional $1.5 million would allow the Town to build a police station designed for police — since the current building on Main Street was originally a post office retrofitted to accommodate police — and one that contains all necessary elements, including a sallyport.
Last month, Calloway had said Town officials were still trying to keep the price at $5 million for an 8,000-square-foot building, “but I have seen this number move so far in both directions because of construction costs.”
“They say the trend is starting to normalize,” he added. “I don’t know if it will ever get back down to where it was, but I think it will start going back a little. The core of the building, we can keep it at $5 million, but there are other expenses as well. For example, the council talked out about the importance of a sallyport,” Calloway said.
The Town received some state funding through a bond bill, and that will help pay for some elements of the structure.
The building — which said he Calloway hopes is named for a historical Millsboro figure whose identity he wouldn’t yet reveal — will be made of brown brick with standard blues and grays inside, have a single roof line, and not be extravagant or excessive, he said. Planned are a conference room, places to conduct soft interviews if someone reports being victimized or goes into the station to report a crime, and adequate space for exercise equipment for officers.