Milford residents offer input on plan for new police station

Milford Police Chief Kenneth Brown in front of the Milford Police station. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

MILFORD — They came, saw, listened and asked plenty of questions.

Around 25 residents attended Tuesday night’s push to build a new Milford police station, complete with back-and-forth conversation with the presenters.

City officials made their case prior to a scheduled April 25 vote on whether to approve a project that could cost up to $18.5 million and be financed through bonds funded by city tax revenues. About 50 persons made a Feb. 25 meeting.

The gathering at the Carlisle Fire Company ran from 7:15 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. and included presentations by the Chief Kenneth Brown and Becker Morgan Group Associate Principal Brenden D. Frederick, who discussed the site plan from an architectural standpoint. Mayor Arthur J. Campbell expressed his support as well.

The new station would be located at the intersection of Del. 14 and NE 4th St., near the current headquarters at 400 NE Front St. The city has already purchased the 16.3 acre property needed, about a third of that being unusable wetlands, the chief said.

Chief Brown said the fate of the current station, uniformly described as outdated, unsafe and cramped, is up to city council.

The city sought input for exterior design preferences and fielded questions about how the space could be utilized. Four previous Becker Morgan designs were highlighted on a poster for review, along with a tentative site plan for the Milford headquarters that’s subject to change.

Mr. Frederick estimated the project would take from 2 to 2 1/2 years to complete once/if the funding is approved by a vote.

A public hearing is tentatively set for 7 p.m. March 23 at City Hall at 201 S. Walnut St., where the public can offer comments and city council is scheduled to vote on the final authorization for bonds.

The meeting status is in limbo after the City of Milford’s government closed all its buildings and offices to the public until further notice on Friday.

Pictured is a potential site plan for the proposed construction of a new Milford Police Department headquarters that’s up for a vote next month. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

The closure includes City Hall, Customer Service Public Works, and Parks & Recreation buildings.

Revenue from City 2020 bonds, if approved, will fund the capital project and associated costs.

Chief Brown said a homeowner with a residence assessed at $200,000 would pay an extra $210 annually if the full $18.5 million is needed. The city is seeking other funding sources to reduce the bond cost and an associated tax increase.

The scheduled bond referendum vote on April 25 will coincide with the municipal election held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the city’s public works facility at 180 Vickers Lane.

To vote, residents and property owners must be registered with the city by March 26. Absentee ballots are available. For information, call 422-1111, ext. 1300 or 1303.

More project information is available at milfordpoliceplan.com.

Community engagement

The construction proposal includes a community room that can hold 100 or more people for public engagement; Mr. Frederick described it as the building’s “crowning piece.”

Resident Sara Pletcher suggested a possible multi-use room that could accommodate children for activities such as playing basketball and more. The open space in the back of the proposed station is full of possibilities for youth and the entire community as well, she said.

“I believe you’re only going to change the crime rate by starting at the beginning when they’re young,” Ms. Pletcher said. “If there’s a place where kids can go to connect with police and see officers as accessible, friendly and fun, then that’s a great thing.”

The website presentation includes a nearly 3-minute YouTube video where police, elected officials, business owners and residents express their support for a new facility. Chief Brown reiterates the message of the building meeting the needs of the 21st century through improved safety, space and community engagement components.

Said State Rep. Bryan Shupe, in part, “We need to make sure that our men and women that are going out to our streets every day and every night and keeping us safe are safe when they’re here at home base.”

Detective Sgt. John Horsman described a current 100-square-foot interview area as a “cold brick room.”

“It’s not adequate for our victims. We need a comfort room (where) we can talk to them so that they can feel at ease with the police, they can feel comfortable and not like they’re in an interrogation room.”

In the video, local business owner Jenn Rowan said a “wonderful” community space can bring business owners and residents together with police “to be able to gather and to create and build a dynamic community together.”

Milford residents Ronnie Campbell, left, and Nina Pletcher analyze past building construction by the Becker Morgan Group. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

At Tuesday’s meeting, Chief Brown offered residents tours of the current police department for the next day. As of early Wednesday afternoon, nobody had requested a tour. One person sought a tour after the first meeting, he said.

Believes it’s time

A relative newcomer to some after living 15 years in Milford, Joseph Palermo credited city staff for providing a full picture of why they believe a new facility is needed.

“They made a nice presentation, they were very thorough,” Mr. Palermo said. “There are a lot of concerns about spending $18 million, which is not chump change as they say.

“I do believe, though, that it’s time. With all the growth in Milford it’s time.”

The stark numbers illustrate the city’s changes since the current police station opened in 1979. At that time the force included 12 officers and seven civilians. Now there are 37 officers, 14 civilians, six auxiliary patrol members and a chaplain.

City law enforcement is protecting and serving a municipality expected to include more than 12,000 residents when the next census comes out, up from 5,366 in 1980. City limits that encompassed 3.2 square miles then expanded to 9.86 miles in 2016, with more growth expected.

Wayne Whitney, a city employee for four decades, maintained that Milford’s population increase and expanding physical size have changed the social dynamics within the area.

“This isn’t the town it was 40 years ago when there was hardly any crime and practically everybody knew everybody,” Mr. Whitney said. “Now we’re getting new people in and things have changed.”

That being said, Mr. Whitney said creating a new work place for the police force is a must.

“The town has outgrown what it has,” Mr. Whitney said. “It’s important to increase the station size and I don’t believe most of the public knows what all goes on inside a police station or a fire station. We’ve outgrown this (fire station) building as well.”

Milford residents attend the second public meeting regarding proposed construction of a new police headquarters at the Carlisle Fire Company on Tuesday night. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

While saying he doesn’t want the city “to become another Middletown” with explosive growth, Mayor Campbell said the reality is that perhaps 3,000 homes or more are coming to Milford in the next seven years and “more people means more crime, we need to face up to that.”

According to the mayor, “Milford is now on the map in Delaware. It’s growing and things are happening here.”

After a visit to Delaware State Police Troop 7 in Lewes with officers, the mayor said he was “amazed what features a police headquarters can have.”

That’s in contrast to his home police station, which the mayor described as “cramped and too small.”

Also, “I’ve been there in the winter when it’s 50 degrees in the offices and you can see your breath.”

Situated in a 100-year flood plain, the station has had water run up to the back door through with just a “good strong storm,” Chief Brown said. The Mispillion River flows about 150 feet away, and the chief said officers once needed a Jon Boat to patrol when water reached the station walls in the early 1990s.