What makes Milford Milford? Town Deliberative debates pumpkin fest, fireworks

MILFORD – Little things mean a lot.

If there was a theme to the Milford town Deliberative Session last Saturday, Feb. 1, it was that small items, like the annual Pumpkin Festival and Fourth of July fireworks, have importance that exceeds their relatively small costs.

Debate about the festival and the fireworks took up a good portion of the five-hour meeting, while a $13 million operating budget and hundreds of thousands of dollars for replacement vehicles and equipment sailed through with little discussion. The Pumpkin Festival’s $20,000 warrant article generated debate on whether it should be self-supporting.

Alan Woolfson, president of the board for the Milford Improvement Team (MIT), explained that the organization would have a hard time staying in existence without this fundraiser, which also supports 40 other nonprofit groups.

The money goes for three days of police detail, cleanup of about 2,000 tons of post-festival trash and other costs for an event that is “phenomenally important” to the town, Town Administrator Guy Scaife said.

Steve Takacs, known as a fiscal conservative, warned against cutting “all things that make Milford, Milford.” And Wendy Hunt, the newly hired director of the nonprofit MIT, called the festival “our biggest marketing tool.”

When the debate was over voters put the Pumpkin Festival money on the warrant, as well as the $20,000 article for MIT. That money is also for the holiday decorations and plantings around town that MIT takes responsibility for.

There was another discussion about whether the nonprofit really needs that much money. Voters decided yes and voted down an amendment from the Budget Committee to reduce the article by $5,000.

The committee’s Peg Seward noted MIT is now saving money on rent because it moved its office into a town-owned building behind the library.

Fireworks, a $8,500 article, generated passionate support in response to a Budget Committee vote of nonsupport and a motion from the selectmen’s chairman to amend the article to zero.

Fireworks “make us unique,” and bring the community together, said Tim Finan, of the Recreation Commission, while Selectmen’s Chairman Gary Daniels compared the 10 minutes worth of fireworks to the summer band concerts, which last for nine weeks and cost only $9,000.

But several other people echoed Finan’s sentiments, and the amendment failed.

After the MIT debate, Dale White, of the Water and Wastewater Commission, chastised everyone for quibbling about relatively small sums.

“It blows my mind,” he said, on how much time was spent talking about items whose cost is less than a “couple slices of pizza … Come on guys, phone it in.”

Another small article, $30,000 that goes to nine social service agencies, was increased from $30,000 to $35,000,

It was one of the few changes voters made to the 23 warrant articles that will now go on the ballot for the March 11 elections.

A petition article to have the town provide additional funding for the Labor Day parade was reduced from $10,000 to $5,000, because the boards of the Kaley and Keyes trust funds have decided to provide the balance of the $10,000 needed to pay for bands and other aspects of the parade

Article 19, which provides $6,000 for the Labor Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades, was not changed.

Everyone thinks the parade is the VFW’s responsibility, but it’s not, Daniels said. The VFW funded it for 67 years and now has asked the town to take over.

Road capital reserve

Scaife gave a detailed presentation on the town budget, highlighting good growth in revenue and a healthy fund balance, or rainy day fund.

On the debt side is a $188,000 increase in employee benefits and insurance and an increase in property and liability insurance due to a police cruiser accident in 2010.

Public works has caused the largest increase in the budget, for building maintenance and replacement of two road workers.

The Budget Committee supports the budget, which was cut by $145,000 a few days before the hearing through a decrease, from 3 percent to 2 percent in employee raises and small cuts elsewhere in the budget.

What is not included in the operating budget is more money for road paving, something everyone agrees is needed.

But officials said they were concerned that paving money would trigger a double-digit tax rate increase that voters would reject and vote in a default budget.

“Unfortunately, there are no capital reserve funds,” for roads and bridges, Scaife said.

That would partly be corrected by Article 8, which establishes a bridge replacement capital reserve fund with $215,000.

Selectman Mike Putnam explained that there are several bridges in various stages of failure, including the Jennison Road Bridge, slated for repairs in 2016.

“I am sick of paying a lot of interest on loans,” Putnam said.

Matt Lydon, chairman of the Budget Committee, said his group fully supports the reserve fund and the biggest concern is that it’s “not nearly enough money.”

Wording on an article that authorizes selectmen to sell or use natural resources at the town-owned Brox property was amended after a long discussion. The article now limits the authorization to 20 years, instead of six years.

Voters also amended a warrant article providing social service to Milford residents, increasing the amount from $30,000 to $35,000.

Other articles that will be on the ballot:

? $330,000 worth of renovations to a water storage tank.

? A new ladder truck for the fire department costing $117,500 a year over seven years to replace a 23-year-old truck.

? Replacement of the transfer station scale house/office $74,500.

? Milford’s share of the cost of nonemergency bus transportation for $28,950.

? New dump truck with a $30,000 annual payment over five years.

? A $20,000 petition article from the Conservation Commission.

Voters declined to reduce the amount to zero, after commission members said they need the money to act if a property became available, and a slim majority of the Budget Committee called it a low-priority item.

The Budget Committee met after the meeting to vote again on positions for each article. A major change was the vote on Article 23, a petition article for $20,000 for the Conservation Commission land fund. The committee now supports the article, 5-4.

If everything on the ballot is approved, the town portion of the taxrate, now $6.35, will go up by 56 cents, an 8.8 percent increase.

At the start of the meeting, Moderator Peter Basiliere gave special recognition to Budget Committee member and longtime town volunteer Bert Becker, who turned 90 last week.

Top fire department

Selectmen’s Chairman Daniels also announced a new ISO rating for the fire department. The new rating means it is “one of the top fire departments in the state,” and the new rating should affect insurance rates for homes and business, beginning this spring, he said. ISO ratings indicate the ability of fire departments to respond to structure fires.

The new rating would never have happened, Daniels said, without the town’s 53 volunteer firefighters and the support given them by their employers, as well as the purchase of the department’s new Engine 4, approved by voters a few years ago.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.