“You guys rock,” exclaimed Suzie Light, Kosciusko County Community Foundation director, as she addressed a room of more than 50 people gathered in the Milford Community Building Thursday, Aug. 8, for the seventh of 11 “Hometown Chats” hosted by KCCF.
So far, said Light, Milford “gets the award for most attendees.”
The purpose of the chats, Light explained, is to inform future initiatives and grant making. They are the result of a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant as part of the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow VII initiative.
Leading the conversation were consultants Mark and Cheri Becker. Attendees responded to a series of questions, with Cheri taking notes. Following these discussions, the attendees were asked to focus their opinions on four “buckets:” Housing, planning/vision, workforce development and child care. Finally, participants were given three blue stickers to place next to the issue or issues they thought most important.
In October, said Light, KCCF will “inform communities what we heard.”
“What do you like most about Milford and Kosciusko County?”
Dan Brown, president of the Milford Redevelopment Commission, said Milford is “a great place to raise a family” and cited overall safety and the “excellent” school system. The public library, Waubee Lake Park, volunteer fire department and utilities all received praise as well. Fireman Brian Haines responded, “We couldn’t do it without community support.”
Milford’s “culture of responsibility,” as Bob Bowerman described it, was cited by others, including Ann Schlabach of Harvest with a Heart, who said, “The community steps up whenever we have a need.”
Harvest Coffee manager Karena Wilkinson described Milford’s “small town charm,” a quality several respondents said was lacking in other places they had lived. Wilkinson, who grew up in Milford, moved away for 18 years. Moving back, she stated, “has been a huge blessing in my life.”
“What is missing?”
Local realtor Scott Gingerich remarked on the loss of Lakeland Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, saying senior care is “a big need now that’s gone.”
Erin Hollingsworth, director of New Beginnings Childcare and Preschool, said “It’s difficult finding qualified applicants.”
Wilkinson called child care “the missing link in our town.” She described mothers who must forego work to stay at home with their child due to the high cost of day care. Mark Becker pointed out affordable child care could alleviate the county’s worker shortage.
One respondent cited the need for “more programs for kids,” while another called for “a gymnasium kids in the community can come to.”
Resident Lani Marshall expressed her belief many of these issues could be addressed by Harvest with a Heart’s “dream agenda … if they could get a space away from the highway.”
Angie Deak pointed to the inaccessibility of Waubee Lake Park due to its distance from town. “It’s not safe to get there,” leading to discussion of a bike/walking trail or a more accessible park.
Rebecca Alles, Van Buren Township trustee, addressed the drug epidemic, an aspect of Milford “you don’t interact with,” she said to those present. “Milford is not immune,” she added and compared the resources at her disposal to “band aids.”
Another respondent noted the need for more programs to help families dealing with “generations of drug and alcohol abuse.”
Marshall and others also discussed the need for affordable housing. “Rent is high and space is limited,” she said. “Young people can’t find a home.”
Hollingsworth, a single mother, described her inability to find a rental house in Milford. Available rentals, she said, are “gone within a day.”
The end of the chat was largely devoted to town planning, housing and childcare. Ryan Chasey and Heather Presley-Cowen of HPG Network, housing consultants for KCCF, solicited comments on housing and planning.
Doug Ruch, Milford Town Council president, recalled a facilities study Milford commissioned around 2015, which “went by the wayside” due to lack of funding.
Tricia Gall, Milford town clerk, expressed her frustration with the Area Planning Commission’s enforcement efforts. “I’d like to see more action being taken.”
Gall also informed attendees the average household income in Milford is “less than $35,000.” This shed light on families’ inability to afford child care, which one provider said runs roughly $25 per day, per child.
Alles decried families’ being “penalized for working … you get one dollar over you lose your food stamps and child care subsidy.”