Good fences make good neighbors is not holding true in Milton.Town officials and some residents do not see eye-to-eye about fences sought to protect the town’s water utility facilities.
Milton Mayor and Town Council in April unanimously approved a $37,000 contract with Abel Fence LLC of Wilmington, to install fencing around the Chandler Street elevated water tank, the Public Works Department maintenance yard on Front Street and the elevated water tank adjacent to Shipbuilders Village.
Most of the money would come from a grant, but town residents say the council's choice of chain-link fencing will reduce property values. They called on council to seek public input before making decisions.
A 2013 grant of $30,000 would pay for most of the fencing, but Kristy Rodgers, Milton’s acting town manager, said the town must use it by June 30 or the funds will be lost. Rodgers had earlier stated the grant, which the town applied for in 2012, came from the Department of Homeland Security.
At mayor and council’s May 22 meeting, Rodgers clarified the money is from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.
Mayor Marion Jones has called the fencing a legacy of her administration, and she suggested council upgrade from standard chain-link fencing to decorative aluminum fencing for the Chandler and Front street portions of the project.
The panel approved the $6,900 upgrade but only for a portion fronting the Chandler Street site, and amended the town budget May 7 to cover the additional expense. Black chain link fencing will be used around the Chandler Street water tower.
Citizens ask for more information, more input
Milton property owners Jeff Daily, Ed Harris, Barbara Wagoner and Ginny Weeks were the only residents to attend the May 21 meeting.
Harris, who owns a house immediately adjacent to the Chandler Street water tower and a house across the street, told the panel neither DEMA nor the Department of Homeland Security requires municipalities to put fences around water facilities because there have been no cases of water poisoning in the country.
Harris started a petition opposing the fencing plan the town approved, but town officials said they haven’t seen it. Councilman John Collier said Harris was the only resident to come forward at an earlier council meeting and explain that he thinks chain link fencing is unsightly and, because it would be visible from his home it would decrease its property value.
Collier said Harris also provided photos showing how the fence would look seen from his homes.
Collier said Harris’s concerns prompted him to suggest the more attractive fencing be used at the Chandler Street site.
The residents contended city officials are in the habit of making decisions without citizen input. As an example they said when the fencing was discussed, only the mayor and council had pictures of it. When pictures were later posted on the town’s website the image showed the wrong fencing.
Jeff Daily told the panel residents would, through forums such as workshops and hearings, appreciate opportunities to weigh-in.
“We shouldn’t have to rule by petition. This mayor and council are too good, too bright for that,” Daily said.
Weeks told the panel requiring residents to file freedom of information act documents to get material about projects such as the fencing is unnecessary.
“We shouldn’t have to FOIA things like that. You keep us in the dark. The philosophy of the town is making people angry,” Weeks said. She said people driving along Front Street on their first visit to Milton would be greeted by a corridor effect that would look like a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Harris asked the panel to talk to Abel Fence representatives and ask them to revise the contract – in essence request a change-order – that would allow returning the black chain link fence because they now wanted to use the more expensive decorative aluminum fence.
But town officials said it’s too late to do that because the company already ordered materials and plans to begin work Tuesday, June 10.
Harris said he thinks the company would accommodate their request because the upgrade means more profit.
But Seth Thompson, town attorney, said the company has a contract and doesn’t have to consider changes. He said a change order could also affect Abel’s work schedule, so the company could seek damages from the town to cover labor costs.
A motion to have a town official go to the company’s Wilmington office and discuss a change order died for lack of a second.
“Do you want a plaque with your names on it on that fence?” Harris asked referring to the chain link fence. “If you do, this town is doomed,” he said, adding the nicer fencing is an economic investment in the town.