Milford City Council formalizes new economic development position

MILFORD — City Council has unanimously voted to create a new economic development and community engagement director position.

Per a job description written by City Manager Mark Whitfield, this employee will be responsible for “planning, directing and administering comprehensive economic development and business assistance programs for the City.”

“The Economic Development and Community Engagement Director also serves as a liaison to the business community/civic organizations and as the City’s designated Public Information Officer,” the description says.

During council’s meeting Monday, Vice Mayor Jason James said he believes the new position will help the city move past some of its budget struggles.

“The reason why I strongly support this position is because we’re talking about tax revenues and deficiencies in the general fund and the like,” he said. “The one way we can help ourselves out is to increase the tax base.”

To do this, he said the city needs to “bring in more businesses, more opportunities, more entertainment, more shopping experiences, more eateries.”

Councilman Todd Culotta said he is also excited about the position.

“This position is important to the economic growth of Milford, which is the lifeblood of the city, and our quality of life is important,” he said. “I look forward to this person being hired and committing to growing Milford and really making it happen.”

He thanked Mr. Whitfield for finding room in the budget for the new post.

Vice Mayor James said he believes the position will bring more to the city than it costs.

“I look at it from a cost-benefit (standpoint),” he said. “This person will benefit the city time and time again. It will pay for itself if we get the right person.”

The job description says those applying should have at least five years of experience in “marketing, public relations, business, planning, community development, economic development or (a) related field.”

Additionally, those certified in fields related to urban planning are preferred.

Also Monday, council passed a resolution to hold a special referendum Jan. 26 for residents to determine whether or not to raise taxes to fund a new police station.

The vote will be on whether the city will be permitted to borrow up to $20 million to fund the project. The resolution stipulates that the amount borrowed will not exceed $20 million.

Lou Vitola, the city’s finance director, reported that the project’s total cost would likely come in lower than $20 million, but he’s not yet certain by how much.

Councilman Culotta described the $20 million mark as roughly analogous to a credit line.

“We’re going to use as much as we need for the police station,” he said. “We don’t have to use all of it, but if we limit ourselves to say $14 (million) or $15 million based on our last discussion, then we would have to come back to the public to ask for more should we go over that.”

City Police Chief Kenneth Brown took a moment during Monday’s meeting to update the council on the condition of Senior Cpl. Timothy “T.J.” Webb, a Milford police officer who was shot in the line of duty in Rehoboth Beach on Thursday.

Chief Brown reported that Cpl. Webb is “doing very well, remarkably well.” The department expects him to come home this week.

“We don’t know that officially, but everything’s looking that way,” he said.

Chief Brown went on to discuss how the department is changing its practices as COVID-19 cases rise.

“Due to the COVID surge, we are back to running the operation the way we were in the summer,” he said. “We’re going to have reduced contact, cutting back on things such as our accident response.”

Chief Brown said his department has “always responded to accidents regardless of where or how serious they were. I’m cutting that back to where we were in the summer, which was we only respond to accidents on the roadway if there’s some other circumstance.

“A hit-and-run in the Walmart parking lot, for instance, we’ll still respond to,” he said. “If it’s a fender bender, we probably won’t respond. Again, that’s just to limit our contact.”

Councilman Mike Boyle, chair of the Police Committee, explained that recently, the department’s statistics in regard to arrests and other engagements with the public had been relatively close to what they were this time last year.

“Unfortunately, you’re going to see these numbers go back down again in future months,” Chief Brown said.

The council meeting also included a lot of news from Jamesha Eaddy, the director of Milford’s Human Resources Office.

Because this was the last council meeting of the year, she named the city employees who had been voted as 2020 Excellence Award Winners.

She recognized Howard Willis and C.C. Dennis, two code enforcement officials who have helped tear down 16 condemned structures and rehabilitate six.

She also recognized the city’s Electric Division for its tireless work to restore power to 2,000 customers after violent thunderstorms rolled through the city Sept. 3. After a full day on the job, the crew returned to work at 11 that night and didn’t go home until 3:30 p.m. the next day.

Additionally, Mr. Whitfield recognized the handful of Milford employees who graduated from Wilmington University’s Delaware Municipal Supervisory Management Academy.

“This was something that had been in the works for some time and one of the people that really helped spearhead this and was really recognized by Wilmington University was our own Jamesha Eaddy,” he said. “I want to recognize her and the work she did to put this together.”

Ms. Eaddy reported that “Wilmington University did provide each graduate with three credits toward a Bachelor of Science in business administration or organizational management, so that’s a great start for every employee that would like to go back and further their education.”

Councilman Boyle also congratulated her on this achievement.

“I want to again express to you what a great job you’ve done with the leadership training program,” he said. “We can’t help but benefit at all levels. I just hope we continue to keep this up and give people the opportunity to exercise what they’ve learned.”

Council also passed two resolutions to delay increases in the water and sewer rate schedules until July 1, 2021, given the financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on many households.