Aldermen scheduled to vote Monday on open space manager's job

The Board of Aldermen declined to fund the city's open space and natural resource agent through tax revenue in the recent budget season, but it could decide at its Dec. 1 meeting to continue funding the position through the open space fund account.

The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) voted at its Nov. 18 meeting to recommend using $55,000 of available funds from the board's Open Space Fund Account to continue the services of Steven Johnson in this position for a third year. Johnson was originally hired using funds from this account.

When developers create a subdivision, they have to donate 10% of the land or 10% of the subdivision's value to the city. Combined with other accounts, the city has about $1.1 million available to purchase properties for conservation as open space, said Johnson.

In making the recommendation, board members said they supported the position, but preferred that the city fund the position through the regular budget instead of taking money intended to purchase open space. The measure passed by an 8-1 vote with board member John Grant opposed to using the open space money.

Board member Jeanne Cervin said, “There is no question in my mind that the position is vital to the city, but I'm not happy with taking the money from the open space fund.”

Complimenting the work of Johnson, Cervin said, “This man demands a much higher salary than that…Mr. Johnson has done some valued work. We need to keep him on.”

Stating his opposition to using the open space funds, Grant said when Mayor Ben Blake (D) first asked the board to authorize spending $45,000 to start the position, Blake said the position would be funded by grants ob-tained by the person who held the job.

“This money is supposed to be purchasing open space,” said Grant. “We are draining more money out than we are putting in.”

Grant said city departments should be managing open space, but are not. He said the open space manager can only write grants and organize volunteer groups to perform work.

Responding to this criticism, Johnson said he has been trying to improve the open space the city owns and also strengthen coastal resiliency.

Johnson commented that buying open space carried with it an obligation to maintain that property.

“I have to question, how are we going to maintain these? How are we going to sustain these?’” asked Johnson

Board Vice Chairman Edward Mead voted in favor of the recommendation, but agreed with Grant when he said, “If no money goes into the open space account, we will keep eating away at our balance. This should be absorbed by the city budget.”

Mead and Grant asked if there was any land the city would like to buy as open space.

In response, Johnson said, “There certainly are parcels out there that would fit into the open space plan. When we go to buy a property, we try to leverage funds through the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).”

According to Johnson, his position was funded at $45,000 for the first year, and then raised to $55,000 for the second year with an increase in work hours and a small hourly wage increase. Johnson said the city considers him a seasonal/temporary employee who works 37.5 hours per week, but does not receive any benefits.

Speaking to the board about his work, Johnson said he wrote grant proposals that will bring $2,250,760 in state and federal monies to Milford. This includes a $500,000 grant and a separate $45,000 grant to rebuild the boardwalk in the Beaver Brook open space area.

The city is also receiving a $5,760 grant from the Wepawaug River Watershed Alliance to monitor the river's water quality.

Johnson said Milford has been tentatively selected to receive a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would be used to improve coastal resiliency against floods. Part of the plan would involve removing non-native invasive plant species that negatively affect the environment.

The grant would be used on 39 acres of land, including 26 acres of city owned land at Calf Pen Meadow Creek, and 9 acres of land owned by the Milford Land Conservation Trust. Also benefiting would be two residential properties that the city would purchase. One property had a house that was demolished following Storm Sandy and the other has a house still standing.

In response to questions from Grant, Johnson said he had hoped grant funding for his position could be found, but he has not yet located such means to pay for the position. Johnson said the open space fund had $242,000 at this time in 2013 and has $274,000 currently in it.

Discussing the question of open space maintenance in 2014, Johnson said he worked with volunteers on Earth Day to clean up trash at The Point, the city-owned area adjacent to Caswell Cove Condominiums.

Johnson said he also organized Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to remove invasive plant species from Wilcox Park, adjacent to Milford Harbor. The Girl Scouts replaced the invasive plants with native ones.

In both areas, the Public Works Department hauled away the trash and plants. In addition, he guided public works employees on two Saturdays to remove hazardous trees and clear trails at Eisenhower Park.

Land Transfer Considered

In other business, the board voted unanimously to recommend transferring or selling 0.12-acres of city-owned land on Old Point Road to the two abutting property owners upon the condition that the property cannot be used as a building lot. The property owners are Peter Mancini and Jeannine Garlock.

The aldermen will also consider this measure at their Dec. 1 meeting, including deciding whether the city will sell or donate the land, which was appraised at $85,500 in 2013.

Garlock told the board the property is on the map as a proposed road to Harrison Avenue, but when a subdivision was built on Carter Drive that road became blocked by the new houses.

Garlock said she has lived there since 1968 and has been maintaining the gravel road, including plowing and raking leaves. Garlock and Mancini need the road to access their garages.

At its Dec. 2 public hearing, the board will consider a revised proposal from Colonial Toyota to establish a parking lot to store its vehicle inventory at 449 Boston Post Road, which formerly housed the now demolished Kimberly Diner.

A divided board rejected a similar proposal at its Sept. 2 meeting, which involved changing the zone from residential to commercial along a portion of Gunn and Ford streets. The revised plan calls for changing the zone only on Colonial's property and not extending to the midline of the street.