Promoting economic development and residential growth in Milford won out last month over funding the construction of a new police station.
In a 4-3 vote, Milford City Council defeated a proposed ordinance that would have collected funds for new police facilities and equipment by levying an impact fee on new residential and commercial construction.
The proposal would have required the developers of new buildings to pay a fee equal to 0.5 percent of the construction cost recorded on their building permit.
The Police Facilities Development Impact Fee would have mirrored an existing 0.25-percent impact fee levied on new construction specifically to fund capital costs incurred by the Carlisle Fire Department.
Members of city council's police committee have said they proposed the impact fee as a way to raise funds to help support the eventual construction of a new police station and to offset a portion of the department's $4.3 million budget.
Prior to council's vote on the impact fee proposal at its Sept. 14 meeting, local real estate agency owner and lifelong Milford resident Randy Marvel implored council members to vote against the measure.
"It was nothing against the police department, just how [council members] were looking to collect the funds, which I think would have put the city in a bad position, competitively," Marvel said this week. "When the average home purchaser looks at Milford and sees an extra $500 added to the cost of a home from an impact fee, they say, 'Why do we need to move to Milford when we can find a less expensive home outside city limits."
Marvel said failing to attract those new residents would have cost the city far more in lost transfer and property taxes, as well as water, sewer and electric fees, than the proposed impact fee would have collected.
Councilman Douglas Johnson said that argument helped to sway him to vote against the proposal.
"We want people to feel free to come live in Milford without having added strings or charges attached," he said, noting that city council already approved an 8-cent hike in the municipal property tax rate this year. "My 'no' vote was not against the police department or the job they do, but a vote for the people wanting to come to Milford."
Councilman Garrett Greer, who also voted against the impact fee, said the burden on economic development would have outweighed the benefit for the police department.
"Based on last year's permits, the fee only would have collected a little over $30,000, which is really just a drop in the bucket for a new police station," he said. "If you're building a car wash, for instance, you would be facing $20,000 in impact fees, about $8,000 of which would have been from this fee, which is a big chunk of money to a business owner."
Page 2 of 2 - Councilman Dirk Gleysteen said questions about the police department's current funding level helped contribute to his vote against the impact fee.
He said Smyrna has two more police officers, while Middletown has two less officers, yet both towns spend $1 million less per year on their municipal police departments.
"I trust that Chief [Keith] Hudson is managing the funds well," he said. "But I would need to see justification on why we're spending a million dollars more than other towns in the area, before I, in good conscience, can approve raising more money for the police department."
City Councilman James Starling also voted against the proposed impact fee.
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson, a member of council's police committee was absent from the Sept. 24 meeting, while Councilmen Allen "Skip" Pikus, Douglas Morrow and Owen Brooks voted for the measure.
"I was very surprised it was voted down," Brooks said this week. "I don't think an extra $400 would make a difference on whether someone builds a home in Milford or in Lincoln, especially when that money would go to providing them with better police protection."
Brooks said the city is twice as big now as when the current police station was built. He said the size of the existing police station makes it difficult to add more officers.
"The proposal would not have been a tax increase on the citizens of Milford," he said. "It would have been a fee on new residents and businesses, who will demand additional police protection and officers as the city grows."
While Brooks said he is hopeful city council will reconsider the Police Facilities Development Impact Fee at a later date, most council members said they believe it is more likely the funding for a new police station eventually would come from voters in the form of a referendum.
"There is no doubt we need a new police station," Johnson said. "But I believe the cost should be shared by all the taxpayers rather than attacking a small group because everyone would benefit."
Greer agreed, adding that council's finance committee has been working to secure federal and state grants for the project, with little success.
"Unless we can get some outside funding, it's going to be a taxpayer decision in the form of a referendum at some point," he said. "But after a big tax increase, it's probably not a good time to ask the voters, so we'll probably have to wait on that."