Want to pay your electric bill at City Hall again? You’ll have to wait about six months.

Want to pay your electric bill at City Hall again? You’ll have to wait about six months.

The Milford City Council voted 7-1 on Jan. 26 to move the city’s billing department back downtown, into the now-empty office space on the ground floor of City Hall.

“We feel that it’s important to have something at City Hall, and we feel that billing is best for this,” said council member John Workman, who chairs the committee on the use of City Hall.

Early estimates peg the cost to build offices at about $120,000, with construction lasting between 19 and 25 weeks. That would have the employees moving in this summer, in June or July.

The city government paid nearly $2 million to rehabilitate the building over nearly a year of construction, but since work finished last fall, it has been used only for city meetings and office space for two information-technology employees. There are offices for City Manager David Baird and City Clerk Terri Hudson, but both are still working at the Public Works building off Airport Road.

“We did not spend all this money to have meetings here once or twice a month,” Workman said. “That is crazy.”

Workman’s committee, which included him, Mayor Dan Marabello and council members Katrina Wilson and Mike Spillane, also considered options for moving code enforcement or planning & zoning employees downtown, or building an entirely new structure to house the billing department. In a Jan. 23 meeting, they decided that billing was the best use for City Hall, and that an entirely new building would be too expensive.

However, other council members balked at paying another six-figure price tag for a building that was sup posed to be done in 2008.

“This is too much money, and money not wisely spent,” council member Katrina Wilson said.

Workman said that not finishing the basement was “absolutely a mistake,” but one the council should fix.

“What’s poor is that the city council didn’t have a plan for this space when the first recommendations were made,” said council member James Oeschler.

He added that council oversight, which was lacking during the rehabilitation project, is the key to making sure it goes as planned.

“We messed it up in the beginning…I apologize to the people of Milford because we didn’t oversee it,” he said.

Wilson added that she was concerned for employee safety if cashiers end up working on the first floor, a position shared by fellow council member Irvin Ambrose, who pushed to have the proposal specify that employees would only work on the ground floor.

“If someone gets highly upset – and from what I understand that does happen from time to time -- I’m worried that someone could get hurt,” he said.

The council compromised, deciding at last to have the committee investigate, along with the exact cost and layout of the new offices, whether it’s safe and economical to put a cashier’s cage on the first floor.

The final vote was 7-1, with only Wilson voting against.

Comprehensive plan approved

During the same meeting, the council voted 8-0 to approve the new Milford Comprehensive Plan, a complex blueprint for land use, annexation and economic development over the next five years.

“I can’t state any stronger that this is a complete upgrade of the old plan,” said Director of State Planning Constance Holland, who attended the meeting.

The plan includes a broad swath of farmland east of Route 1 that is designated to be preserved as open space if it’s ever annexed into the city. The plan – still in early stages – is to use the land for a transfer of development rights program, which lets developers buy “development rights” on a piece of property and use those rights to add extra density elsewhere. That allows farmers to get money for their land while still farming it, and developers to build homes in areas more suited to higher-density living.

“You will hear that it doesn’t work, but in this day and age, it does work,” Holland said.

A full text of a late draft of the plan is available at http://cityofmilford.com/compdraft.html.

Government ethics code

could already exist

Marabello’s plan to have the city council create an ethics code for Milford officials may be a quarter-century too late.

Council member Owen Brooks said he found mention of an existing ethics policy in the minutes of a 1984 meeting that he was reading through to research another topic.

Exact details of the code were not available at press time, but the council will discuss them further at a February meeting.

City Solicitor Tim Willard also pointed out that a state law creates a “default” ethics code for any local government that doesn’t have one of its own, including a detailed definition of conflicts of interest and procedures for reporting, investigating and even prosecuting violations.

Ambrose said the city should only move forward with its own code only if it would be substantially different from the state’s.

“To kind of reinvent the wheel just doesn’t seem to be a way to use our time well,” he said.

Mayor Dan Marabello said the city should make sure every employee and elected official knows its ethics policy, even if it’s just copied from the state law.

“When you come into office, this should be the first thing you see,” he said.

Parade date named

Charles Gray was on-hand to formally present the Milford Parade Committee’s request for an Oct. 28 date for the 2009 Halloween parade. The council will vote on the date and starting time on Feb. 9.

City making progress on recycling

Figures on the city-wide recycling program presented during the meeting showed a steady increase in the amount of trash Milford residents recycle and a dramatic decrease in the amount they throw away since the program began in 2006.

According to the city’s records, Milfordians recycled 445.18 tons of garbage in 2008, up from 392.12 tons in 2007 and 133.33 tons in 2006. At the same time, the amount of garbage sent to landfills dropped to 6,860 tons, from 6,981 in 2007 and 7,518 in 2006.

Demolition plan approved

The council voted 8-0 to transfer $3,000 from the city’s grass-cutting budget to pay for the demolition for buildings at 402 and 504 Truitt Ave.

“It’s quite a detriment to the neighborhood…a place for vagrants to gather,” Baird said.

According to Ambrose, the city’s budget for demolition was cut in half this year after consecutive years where the fund was never touched at all.