Milford growth continues, officials say

Mayor Ben Blake

Mayor Ben Blake

The City of Milford continues to experience lower tax rates and continued growth, aligning it perfectly to stay on target with numerous improvements planned for the 2019 fiscal year ahead, city officials said.

For the third consecutive year, Milford Mayor Ben Blake announced the city had once again passed a budget which reflected both a decrease in the mill rate and an increase in the number of businesses that have moved into the city.

“There’s a lot of hustle and bustle all over town, especially with economic development,” said Blake. “Milford is one of the towns that’s expanding. Over the last couple years we’ve had big bumps in the number of businesses moving into town. We just got the figures back for 2018 and we increased the number of businesses from 450 in 2017 to 465 in 2018. We keep going up and up in terms of new business starts coming into town.”

The Board of Alderman approved an approximate $210 million ($210,195,255) city budget for the fiscal year 2018-2019 which reflects a slight decrease in taxes while continuing to allow for the current high level of city services. “It’s a responsible, prudent budget that puts us on solid footing,” Blake said. The Board of Education’s operating budget FY 2018-2019 is $93.2 million. Milford’s mill rate was 27.84 in the fiscal year 2016-2017, 27.79 in 2017-2018 and will be 27.74 this year.

Both large and small businesses have recently made Milford their home. “From salons and doctors’ offices to Boscov’s (210,000 s/f) and Dave & Busters (35,000 s/f) to a new site that has recently been approved for a 65,000 s/f retail space, a 110-room hotel and a restaurant at the former Howard Johnson’s site, a Big Y in the former Beard Sand & Gravel pit on the Boston Post Road, to additional office development as well,” said Blake.

“I just hope we continue on the trajectory we are on,” said Julie Nash, Director of Economic and Community Development. “Last census check we were the fastest growing in the Southern Connecticut area. We recently had our quarterly economic and development round table discussion and there was so much energy and excitement in the room. It really all comes down to team collaboration.”

“The city has a big project that we are working on in the downtown area,” said Blake. “That I think will really buoy the rest of the shops, the site is located along the railroad tracks on River Street; we are working on this with a developer. It’s a property we acquired three years ago with the help of a state grant. We are adding a small boutique grocer, underground parking (125 spaces) and approximately 220 spaces that will be at grade.”

When asked what he attributes this consecutive growth to Blake said, “We have a lot of natural ingredients but one of the reasons people are trying to expand and new businesses are coming in and putting down roots is the stability of government we have had. For the last three years we have had back to back tax cuts, people appreciate the fact that their taxes are going down. It’s a cycle - when taxes go down, more people move in and when more people move in, the grand list swells and when the grand list swells we are able to offer tax reductions.”

Another contributing factor is the city’s triple-A bond rating, which has made it less expensive to borrow money for major infrastructure projects. The city also is currently courting qualified partners for a 1-acre waterfront development site located at 24 Helwig Street, Lisman Landing, with a goal to create a “top-quality restaurant with dockside dining.” The 1900 s/f building currently houses the US Coast Guard Flotilla. Additionally, the Fire Engine Pizza Company will be opening in the former fire house, a tourism task force has been created, funding for a tourism website has been obtained, a grant has been written with the Harbor Commission for re-decking at the harbor, and work with the P&Z approving the process to open new businesses; Tribus, Dockside Brewery, Milford Point Brewing, a possible tiki boat and more is underway.

“We have 1,500 boaters coming into our harbor, it’s one of the most active harbors in the state and we think creating dockside dining would be transformative for our visitors and also for Spinnaker across the way adding traffic,” said Nash. 2019 challenges, Nash noted, include filling vacant office space.

Goals include downtown development projects, discussions of building a new police headquarters, launch of a tourism website, beautification initiatives which fall under the tourism umbrella and new harbor community activities and tourism highlights. “The state refunded the tourism districts they haven’t funded in quite some time and I think that’s going to make a huge difference in how we look at our assets for our visitors,” Nash said.

Nash identified good team work as an impetus behind the growth. “We have had a lot of success but that comes with an enormous amount of collaboration with our boards, associations and commissions which are all volunteers from the city that give up their own time to help us achieve these goals. All the directors in the city each own a spoke in our wheel and of course Mayor Blake who sets the tone for collaboration.”

Additional Public Works projects include the finishing touches on a new dog park near West River Street, and an enhancement project at Walnut Beach which includes new bathrooms. “We have projects going on just about everywhere,” added Blake. “We are always trying to improve Milford, if folks have suggestions on how to make Milford better, just give me a call.”