Milton Town Council officially passed its fiscal year 2021 budget Sept. 21, with the biggest item being an 8.25 percent property tax increase.
The $3.4 million budget went into effect Oct. 1. The tax increase, Milton’s first since 2015, will give the town an extra $100,000 in revenue, which will be used to fund an increase in training for the parks and police departments, new computers for town administration, and donations. With the increase, the average Milton homeowner’s tax bill will be $555 annually.
Town Manager Kristy Rogers has made clear through the budget process that she would like the town to get away from using transfer tax revenue and reserve funds to fund town operations. While home sales in fiscal year 2020 have been strong, Rogers has said many of those sales have been for existing homes, not new construction.
The town has a small budget surplus of $3,900, which it plans to carry over to next year.
“Surplus builds our reserves, and we need to maintain those reserves when projects arise,” Rogers said.
The boost in donations covers increases for Grace Church and Milton Theatre, for allowing town meetings to be held at their facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for Milton Fire Department, Milton Little League, Milton Garden Club and Milton Lions Club.
Among the town’s major expenses is a drainage and bulkhead improvement project at the Magnolia Street parking lot, estimated to cost $835,000. The town has already received $435,000 in grant funding for the project; it is planning to use $379,000 in transfer tax reserves for its share of the project, although Rogers is seeking an additional $100,000 in grants. The plan includes repairs to the bulkhead along the Broadkill River, and a rain garden and other drainage improvements at the parking lot. The work would reorient the parking lot, and the garden would cause the loss of nearly 20 parking spaces.
Besides the Magnolia Street project, the town’s other large capital improvement is $145,000 for a new dump truck. Public Works Supervisor Greg Wingo has argued that the current dump truck, which is used to haul snow and debris, is from 1997, has suffered a great deal of rust and deterioration, and will probably not make it through another year. Public works also requested, and got, $35,000 for a new Ford F250 pickup truck equipped with a snowplow.
The most controversial funding measure in the budget is using $97,000 in grant money to install lights at the new Rails to Trails extension running between Federal Street and Lavinia Street. The trail backs up to houses on West Shore Drive in Wagamon’s West Shores, and residents there have been very vocal about not wanting lights there, saying that the lights being on 24/7 would disturb their quality of life and encourage people to be using the trail all the time. Rogers has said that lights on the trail would improve public safety and be a help to the police department. Conduits have been installed, and the council has indicated it plans to move forward with the lights, but nothing has been installed yet.