MILLSBORO — Priding itself as No. 1 in residential growth in Delaware’s fastest-growing county, Millsboro has reached a crossroad for infrastructure updates and other capital improvements.
As they approach this point, town leaders are asking for public support in a potential multimillion-dollar request.
Capital projects, notably a new police headquarters to better allow for departmental growth, as well as upgrades for an aging water and wastewater system, are among the items seeking approval through referendum Nov. 20.
“In essence, we are asking for the authority to borrow up to $38 million, if it is even needed. Please realize, all borrowing must be approved by Town Council in an open, public session,” said Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt during a hearing Monday. “Town Council really does not take this referendum lightly. We have tried numerous things to avoid the referendum, such as budget cuts. We have prioritized projects in our strategic plan. We’ve even written grants, both staff and council, and we’ve even talked to legislators about funding — state legislators and federal.
“We’re to maximize every dollar we collect in order to make it last. We have tried to avoid this referendum,” she continued. “Unfortunately, we cannot cover the expenses needed with the current operating budget. Rest assured, Town Council will try its level best to avoid borrowing the total $38 million amount. Remember, as council members, we pay taxes, too, and we do not want to see any rate taxes being raised.”
Several residents also spoke at Monday’s hearing, which mayor and council unanimously decided to keep open through a special meeting Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. Additional comment will be taken then.
While many new homes are being built — most notably in Plantation Lakes — much of the town’s infrastructure is well over 50 years old.
Public Works Director Kenny Niblett, in his 46th year with the town, said most of Millsboro’s services have been in the ground since 1964.
“It is hard to believe that Millsboro’s sewer mains and water mains are still in functional use at this time after all those years,” he said. “Some people have a common misconception that they have new infrastructure — and new homes. Your household water and sewer run through the town’s original 1964 lines to your new lines, adding additional wear and tear on the old infrastructure. And it is at risk in certain parts. We want to try to alleviate these conditions without having costly emergency expenditures in the future.”
Millsboro’s sewer-treatment plant on East State Street is aging rapidly, Mr. Niblett said, adding that there have been several modifications over years, including a fairly major upgrade in 2009.
A second wastewater plant is in the design phase. That facility, proposed on the town’s White Farm property, would arm Millsboro with treatment on both ends and would produce high-quality effluent for beneficial reuse, including for area agriculture, golf courses and state lands, Mr. Niblett said.
“It is a very good system. And with the environmental constraints being placed nowadays, we are confident that this system will work for Millsboro to meet that need,” he added.
The new 1 million-gallon water-storage tank on the White Farm property, off Hardscrabble Road, recently swung into service. It was supported by a matching grant from Delaware’s Office of Drinking Water.
“The tank was strategically located in the northern end of town in order to provide good, high-quality, high-pressure water supply to developments in northern areas of town,” said Millsboro Town Engineer Carrie Kruger.
In addition, a water facility in Plantation Lakes is under construction.
In its request, town leaders say every possible effort is being made to secure state and/or federal funding, some coming with partial- or total-forgiveness incentives.
“We write a lot of grants, and we do get a lot of money to fill in the gaps,” Mayor Truitt said.
Millsboro Assistant Town Manager Jamie Burk said that for the second wastewater plant on the north side, the town has submitted five grants to the office of Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and several to Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del.
“There is money out there from government. But everybody wants a piece of it,” Mr. Burk said. “So we are competing with other municipalities.”
On that front, he said Millsboro officials are hearing good news about possible waterline replacement, which would be around $600,000. “(That) is great,” Mr. Burk said. “But, no pun intended, it’s a drop in the bucket.”
For the police department, based on Main Street, there are currently 17 sworn officers. Chief Brian Calloway’s hope is to have 22 by next year. Some renovations, including in-house work, have been undertaken while working on a tight budget, he said.
Grant funding is always sought by the agency.
“We’re doing the best that we can … to try to find money, so we don’t have to put the burden upon the taxpayers,” said the chief, adding that the new building will address needs of “10, 20 years, looking forward.”
During the hearing, residents Katie Thomas and Mary Anderson spoke of the need for expanded internet service, and Marty Presley asked about the per-household cost breakdown a referendum passage could bring in terms of a tax increase.
“It is hard to say exactly what the rate is going to be,” said Millsboro Director of Finance/Technology Matt Hall. “It is going to be on water and sewer, rather than taxes. Most of it is going to be related to water and sewer debt. However, each time we go to take the loan would be when the rate increase would change. If we are borrowing from the state — the SRF, the State Revolving Fund — or from (U.S. Department of Agriculture), they would kind of tell us where the rates are supposed to be at that time.
“It’s hard to project that because we don’t know all the facts. We might not borrow the first dime for five years, 10 years. It might not be fully borrowed for 20 years or ever. We don’t know how much will get principally forgiven. We don’t know what the rates are going to be,” he added. “The referendum is just to give us authority to borrow money.”
Mayor Truitt closed by asking for town residents’ assistance.
“In closing, we need your help. Passage, a yes vote, will ensure that our facilities and infrastructure are enhanced and upgraded to the modern times for our businesses and residents alike. We also want to make sure it is cost-effective and at the cheapest possible price,” she said. “I believe we’re trying to get as much of this as we can get principally forgiven. So we are going to be borrowing in chunks, so that it is in increments, … not the full $38 million at one time.
“Despite Millsboro being 128 years old, we are still evolving as a town. You can still see that solid foundation showing through. Operating and maintenance expenses have increased like everything else. Maintaining our current older infrastructure and facilities is just not cost-effective without these enhancements.”
Voting hours for the Nov. 20 referendum are 1-7 p.m. at Millsboro Town Center on Wilson Highway.