Millsboro approves East Millsboro Elementary School annexation

Millsboro town council on Jan. 6 approved Indian River School District’s request for annexation of East Millsboro Elementary School property on Iron Branch Road. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO – It’s official: East Millsboro Elementary is now within the town of Millsboro corporate limits.

Shortly after a public hearing that drew two speakers, Millsboro town council at its Jan. 6 meeting approved Indian River School District’s requested annexation of the East Millsboro Elementary School property on Iron Branch Road.

“Thank you, it’s nice to be a resident,” said Joe Booth, supervisor of Building and Grounds for the Indian River School District following council’s vote.

Enhanced safety and protection, zoning alignment and an even closer working relationship between the school district and the town were primary reasons for the annexation identified by IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele in an Oct. 25 letter to the town.

The 12.87-acre East Millsboro Elementary School property is on Iron Branch Road, literally the same roadway on which Millsboro Middle School (302 E. State St.) is located a short distance away.

East Millsboro Elementary enters the town under MR (Mixed Density Residential) zoning, which allows for schools, churches, parish houses, rectories, funeral homes, libraries, museums, art galleries, municipal buildings, country clubs and community centers.

“We feel that the Indian River School District and the town of Millsboro have a great working relationship, and we feel that this annexation will further that relationship between the school district and the town,” said Mr. Booth. “The zoning classification that we sought and the zoning laws that the town of Millsboro have fit the Indian River School District.”

Mr. Booth stated that the IRSD’s other school in town, Millsboro Middle School, abides by those regulations.

“We feel that it is appropriate for the district,” Mr. Booth said. “We think that we have some other proposals out there that we feel that we can work on and come to an appropriate conclusion and approval of an SRO (School Resource Officer), for example.”

East Millsboro Elementary is already serviced by town water and sewer, and the IRSD has been paying the in-town rate.

“They are not paying the out of town rate so there would be no reduction in revenue to the town by annexing the school,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson.

At the December town council meeting, councilman Tim Hodges noted the appointed annexation committee identified “pros” supporting annexation such as decreased complaint response time, improved geometric shape of the town and no additional utility related costs.

When the school was not in town limits, Millsboro Police Department technically could not immediately handle or respond to a complaint at East Millsboro Elementary unless dispatched by SussCom at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center in Georgetown. With annexation, Millsboro police can respond directly.

Annexation opens the door for a potential School Resource Officer partnership with the Millsboro Police Department.

That proposal, which is in initial discussion stages, was the focus of Millsboro resident Kimberly Kaan’s remarks during the public hearing prior to the annexation vote.

“I was at the last meeting where the committee reported that they could not find a reason not to annex the school. I didn’t hear why they should but there was no reason not to,” said Ms. Kaan, who addressed discussion on a possible SRO partnership several months ago “about whether or not the town was going to be able to capture all of its costs, both salary and administrative.”

“There is expenses for an employee. I got concerned because I thought I could hear rumblings that it will be less money for the school if they go through Millsboro as opposed to Delaware (state police) … but we don’t think we are going to be able capture of all our expenses,” said Ms. Kaan. “I have lived in a couple places. I’ve been involved with law enforcement. And I have never known an agency to not capture all of its expenses in an SRO program.”

Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt reminded Ms. Kaan that the issue at hand was solely the proposed annexation of the school property.

“The two items are related,” Ms. Kaan said. “The conversation up here at council, when the question about annexation came up, there also were musings about the SRO. They are two separate issues but obviously they are intertwined.”

“Not really. They can still annex into town and not have a Millsboro officer,” said Mayor Truitt.

“They could, but I would think part of their motivation is to get a Millsboro officer,” said Ms. Kaan. “I just want to say here in this room it’s about the Millsboro taxpayer, and the Indian River School District taxpayer is a much bigger base than the people that can come into this room. I just want that to be kept in mind.”

Mr. Hodges addressed Ms. Kaan’s concerns.

“That (SRO) is going to be a decision for a different day. And I want you to know that our goal is to make sure that we capture all of those costs,” said Mr. Hodges. “Again, first off, it is a separate issue. But Just to alleviate your concerns, it is not our intention to go into it without capturing all of the costs.”

Mr. Booth, in his public hearing remarks, noted the IRSD is currently placing immense emphasis, focus and attention on securing passage of a major capital referendum in February.

“We have a little bit of due diligence on our part, but we feel that an (SRO) agreement can be worked out,” said Mr. Booth. “We think that we can work out the SRO issue.”

Council’s vote in favor of the annexation was 5-0-2. Councilman Brad Cordrey, whose wife is employed by the IRSD, abstained as did Mayor Truitt, who also works in the school district.