In an 18-minute meeting, the Millville Town Council on Tuesday, Jan. 8, approved two ordinance changes and a number of revisions to the Town’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
The first ordinance amends the town code, expanding Millville’s Planning & Zoning Committee from three members to five-to-nine members, and clarifying that it will only seat non-council members to the commission. The change was discussed at two prior meetings, on Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 of last year.
At the Dec. 11 meeting, the need for the change was explained as a function of growth in the town. The Planning & Zoning Commission had been reduced in 2015 to a three-person committee made up of the town manager, the code enforcement officer and a council member. At that time, the Town was having difficulty with getting a quorum of planning commission members for its meetings.
The proposed ordinance regarding the planning commission calls for five members to be selected on a staggered schedule, with all five members ultimately serving three-year terms. At the beginning, some of the terms will be shorter so that the terms can be staggered, thus allowing for continuity and preventing the possibility of an entirely new commission facing an issue anew that has already been dealt with by a previous commission.
The budget revisions were due to a number of unexpected expenses, according to Town Manager Debbie Botchie.
“We had an issue with the irrigation system, which we thought was tied to the new water system, but it was not,” Botchie said.
Other revisions included funds for training of new planning commission members, increased payments to the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, increases in postage, the addition of the town hall mural by John Donato, increased costs associated with road inspections and maintenance costs on the town park property.
The council also addressed the issue of the need for “third-party” inspectors for some building projects in the town.
“We know coming down the pike that we have more commercial construction that’s larger, and residential construction that’s larger,” Botchie said, adding that “this will have the Town covered by having third-party inspectors.” Such projects include the Beebe Healthcare South Coastal Campus on Route 17, which recently broke ground.
Some residents expressed concern that having the town engineer, currently Andrew Lyons Jr. of the engineering firm George, Miles & Buhr, choose a third-party inspector for projects that warrant a third-party inspector could lead to conflict-of-interest issues.
No public comment was taken before the change passed 5-0. But resident Glenn Faden said during the citizens’ privilege part of the meeting, “My concern is that we have a contract engineer, a vendor engineer … who’s going to approve a building inspector, and I just think that’s a little unethical, and imprudent, and perhaps a conflict-of-interest may be there.”
“Our attorney has approved it,” Botchie said of Town Solicitor Seth Thompson, “our town engineer is the most qualified to choose a building inspector. … There’s only a few in our area that can do commercial and high-end residential, so the engineer will be choosing the inspector on our behalf.”
“What’s in place to prevent conflict-of-interest or imprudence?” Faden said.
“I think our attorney would have known if it was unethical, and he approved it,” Botchie replied.
“How would you know the contract engineer isn’t getting a kickback from the inspector to look the other way?” asked resident Dave Moeller.
“You’re absolutely correct,” Botchie said. “I think that [with] all of our on-hands here and our trustworthy engineer, I don’t think we’ll get into an issue. But if we do, it’ll be taken care of.”
Resident Valerie Faden suggested that one way to prevent any conflict-of-interest issues would be for the town engineer to give the town council a list of qualified inspectors, and the town council would choose one from the list.
Valerie Faden said that, that way, “There’s some kind of neutral, impartial vetting process. Certainly the engineers are the experts — I understand that,” Faden said. She said that “If the Town so desired, you could interview a bunch of them and decide who should be on the list, and that would be a more impartial process of who gets on the list, versus leaving it to some people to take care of that behind the scenes.”
Botchie said she had suggested to Thompson that the town council choose the inspector, and he had instead recommended having the town engineer make the selection, “because he’s the expert and we’re not.”
By Kerin Magill