Milford City Council members voting on March 11, approved a proposal to raise the town's sewer rate for certain customers. The vote was 7-1 in favor, with Councilman Steven L. Johnson the lone dissenter.
Vice Mayor Douglas E. Morrow chaired the meeting in place of Mayor Joseph J. Rogers, who was "under the weather," Morrow said.
The seven-cent increase affects only customers using more than 1,000 gallons a month. The rate will increase from $2.71 per 1,000 gallons to $2.78, a hike of 2.6 percent.
The rate hike goes into effect March 21, meaning those affected will see the increase beginning with their April bills.
The increase was needed to cover the city's obligation for a $51,000 annual debt service resulting from the construction of an emergency sewer backup pipe.
Customers using less than 1,000 per month will see no change in the $10 rate currently charged.
Councilman Dirk Gleysteen brought up the possibility of paying for some of the debt service using money from the city's reserve fund, but voted for the ordinance after City Manager Richard Carmean and other council members suggested it was better to keep those reserves at their current level to both maintain the town's credit rating and to pay for future infrastructure improvements.
In December 2008, the main sewer line from the town to the Kent County Wastewater Treatment Facility failed, resulting in the town having to divert 1.6 million gallons of raw sewage into the Mispillion River.
The city tied the new backup line into the main sewage line from Harrington. The project was finished in 2011 at a cost to the city of $1.3 million, which was mortgaged over 40 years.
In other actions …
Council members unanimously approved a proposal that will allow Milford homeowners to suspend garbage collection if they leave the area for more than three months. The change also affects collection of yard waste and recycling.
Residents taking advantage of the new ordinance will pay $35, which is less than half the cost they would pay over three months if they did not suspend collection efforts. If not suspended, the city would continue to charge the collection fee, even though sanitation workers would not actually be picking up the trash.
Those taking part in the new program must submit an application at least five business days in advance and pay the fee. Sanitation workers then would collect the trash, yard waste and recycling containers, and place them in storage until the homeowner returns. The containers would be returned automatically at the end of the suspension, unless extended.
Carmean said the fee would cover the manpower costs of picking up, storing and then returning the trash bins. There would be an additional $35 fee to extend the suspension for an additional three months.
Page 2 of 2 - "The $35 fee will be enough to cover our costs," Carmean said.
The program only is available to live-in homeowners; those renting a home or commercial or rental property owners would not be eligible.
Those who don't re-establish their collection services if returning before the end of the three months would not be allowed to use other waste services or to use a neighbor's collection service. They also would have their service involuntarily restarted and be subject to a $100 account reconciliation fee.
In additional votes, council members approved a contract that would improve the city's billing process by outsourcing the printing and mailing of utility and tax bills. Currently the work is done in-house using a city employee who spends almost an entire day four times a month stuffing the bills into envelopes and then driving to Dover to mail them.
The contract also would improve the city's online billing process by allowing customers to see a facsimile of their paper bill on the Internet. Both processes would allow additional information or special events flyers to be included in the paper bills or seen as attachments to online bills.
Carmean said between 12 percent and 15 percent of customers in most municipalities pay their city bills online; currently approximately 25 percent of Milford residents use online bill pay services.
He expects that number to go up once the contract is fully implemented, Carmean said.
Additionally, council approved a resolution to authorize the sale of a small parcel of land at the corner of Marshall and Mispillion streets. The .186-acre parcel, formerly part of the Henry Mast property, will be put up for sale with a minimum bid of $18,000. Any monies received from the sale will be turned over to the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
The next meeting of the Milford City Council will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, March 25.