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Milton planning for future growth through charter changes

Milton Town Council is planning for future growth and protection of the town’s infrastructure through a series of charter changes.

Three charter changes have already been sent to the state legislature and put into bill form, while a fourth will be voted on as a resolution and folded into the existing changes at council’s 6:30 p.m., Monday, April 19 meeting at Grace Church. 

The bill has not yet been introduced to the General Assembly but is sponsored by Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes and Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, who represent the Milton area. 

The resolution to be discussed April 19 sets up a mechanism for large parcel developments to have to pay a special tax that would help fund the additional police and town workers that would be needed to service the development.

Mayor Ted Kanakos said the change is in part a response to the potential annexation and development of 400 acres of land from Sand Hill Road to Route 30.  While there has been nothing filed with the town yet, Kanakos said there has been talk about a proposed development that would add 1,400 homes over the course of 20 years. Kanakos said should that plan come to fruition, the development would double Milton’s size. 

In order to manage that potential growth, Town Manager Kristy Rogers said this charter change would provide a mechanism that would not impact current residents. While a developer would have to pay for physical infrastructure, such as roads, sidewalks and water hookups, Kanakos said the charter change would allow the town to implement a tax to cover the cost of the extra expenses the town would incur. Kanakos said any potential development is years away from happening, but this change would allow the town to be better prepared for if it does. 

The state code has what is known as municipal tax increment financing and the creation of special development districts. These are two interrelated concepts that, in a nutshell, grant municipalities the power to levy additional taxes on larger developments in order to pay for the additional infrastructure needed to service these developments. State code provides tax increment financing and special development districts for municipalities with populations over 35,000. However, the General Assembly has previously granted the same authority to towns with smaller populations, such as Dover, Lewes, Millsboro and Millville. 

Town seeks to protect water system

A second charter change in the package, already approved by council on March 23, would make it so that any future mayor or council would have to go to a referendum in order to sell the town’s water system. 

The charter change would institute a two-step process. First, the council would have to have a supermajority – two-thirds of councilmembers – voting yes to schedule a referendum. Then, the matter would be put to the voters.

Kanakos said the change was proposed in light of a number of factors, including the town’s recent investments in its water infrastructure, attempts by previous officials to try to sell the water system and the previous sale of the town’s wastewater treatment plant to Tidewater back in 2007. 

“We’re putting in a system of checks and balances,” he said. 

Two smaller changes included in the package are narrowing the time the town has to conduct review of requested annexations from 120 days to 90 days.

The town would maintain the same process for annexation: a request would go through Town Council, who would appoint a special review committee to review the request and determine the pros and cons of annexation. Only now, the committee would have 90 days to deliver its report to council, not 120. 

The final change would allow the town to skip a referendum for capital improvement projects where the town is borrowing money but is receiving 100 percent loan forgiveness. 

The logic here lines up with recent experience: the town had to go to referendum on a $1.6 million water main improvement project in January where Milton received state money, but only had to pay back interest-only payments during construction, with the entire loan forgiven once the project is completed. While that would seem more like a grant, it was technically a loan, and by town code was subject to referendum. The January referendum was approved with nearly 100 percent voting in favor, 341-4. 

Lopez said of the proposed changes, “Steve and I are more than happy to support these modifications to the Milton Town Charter in order to bring greater clarity and efficiency to how the town governs.  While the bill was brought forward by the town, these residents are our constituents as well, and we are grateful to offer the legislative support needed to make this enhancement and will ensure the bill gets voted on with the full support of our colleagues in both chambers before June 30.”


Additional items for April 19 meeting  

Milton Town Council has a short agenda for its April 19 meeting that, in addition to the special development district charter change, includes two street closure requests.

First, Annette Babich, co-creator of the Dog Days of Summer Festival, is requesting the closure of Sand Street for this year’s festival, to be held Saturday, Sept. 18. In previous years, the council has granted this request without issue.

The second closure is for Prettyman Street for the town-wide yard sale, Saturday, May 1.

Finally, the council will award the contract for a street repaving project in Shipbuilders Village.