MILFORD – In a marathon nearly three hour meeting, Milford Town Council members dealt with a variety of town business including passing the $2.2 million 2022 budget. The 2022 budget of $2,252,722 is 4.28% higher than the 2021 budget, which was $2,232,073.

The estimated tax rate per $100 assessed value is $1.19. Last year it was estimated at $1.185 and came in at $.98.

Suzie Light, of Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO), came to the Council seeking approval on a couple of agreements, the first of which had the Council at odds.

Light said she was bringing an agreement at the recommendation of Milford’s Redevelopment Commission for an incentive program certification, which entailed when someone comes to town seeking incentive they should be directed to KEDCO’s application. KEDCO will vet the application and bring their recommendation back to Milford’s Redevelopment.

Light said the town’s attorney looked at it and made some changes in the strength of language, asserting that Milford was in control of awarding any type of tax abatement or incentives.

Councilman Ken Long asked how many communities have signed on and Light said Winona Lake had and Warsaw was in the process, but she said they’ve only presented to Winona Lake and Milford so far.

Long suggested they table the agreement. He was ambivalent about it but wasn’t ready to sign. He made the motion to table it and revisit it in January after seeing how it was working for other communities. The motion died for a lack of a second and the Council went on to pass it with Council President Doug Ruch and Councilman Robert Cockburn voting for it and Long against.

Light went on to ask for a letter of support from the Council for Kosciusko County to apply for a HELP (Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program) grant through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), which allows rural communities to work together. The county is allocating $20,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to match with OCRA to hire an administrator to assist communities like Milford and others to assist with applying for grants, specifically OCRA grants.  

Communities writing letters of support are asked to commit one-third of projects that they’re already planning to do that are eligible for OCRA funding.

Ruch asked how the agreement benefits Milford versus the town doing it on their own. Clerk-Treasurer Tricia Gall said if they want to do it on their own, they’d have to hire the administrator on their own without the $20,000 from the county, plus if they’re in the program they have a better chance of obtaining the grant.

Council members confirmed that the one-third they’re committing stays in Milford and is not put into a pool to be used elsewhere. Light said what’s different from other OCRA opportunities is this administrator helps them to develop the plan.

The Council voted to sign the letter of support.

Lisa Frazzetta-Manning, insurance agent for the town, reported that since the town’s health insurance was up for renewal Oct. 1, they looked at other possibilities that might be less but she said since the town is in with a pool of other communities in Indiana, they’re already at the cheapest.

She said even though the increase was higher than anticipated – 17% versus the 15% budgeted – she said they have the least expensive plan she could find and the plan is the same.

She suggested to help offset the cost, the town could consider looking at how much the town is paying and consider increasing the employee’s contribution or decrease the amount they’re putting in the health savings account.

Ruch said, “Obviously, we don’t like it but I don’t think we’re going to do anything about it.”

The Council approved remaining with the town’s current medical insurance.

Fire Chief Virgil Sharp told the council that the town owns one of their two pumpers and it would be scheduled to be replaced in 2023 as it’ll be 20 years old, but since they were told the manufacturer is now out two years, if they were to place the order next month he wants to get things moving now.

He asked for the Council’s blessing to get a committee to come up with a design and get cost estimates so they can get the order placed.

Long suggested, since they just got a pumper for the township, they should just design an identical unit but was told by other fire department members that two pumpers of the same size would not fit in the station so they need to redesign it so it’s not as long and would have a different chassis.

The Council gave the go-ahead to start the process. Ruch recused himself as he’s a member of the fire department.

Town Marshal Derek Kreider received permission to purchase state-of-the-art video equipment for the police interview room. Kreider said he spoke to the Kosciusko County prosecutor and they agreed to pay $10,559 for the iRecord video equipment if the town pays the $3,000 installation. Gall said they could pay that from the riverboat fund.

Kreider said any agency would be able to use the equipment. They just flip a switch before entering the room and it starts recording. The prosecutor could also be sent a link to watch the interview from his home.

There was a lot of discussion about replacing a fence around ponds that are scheduled to be drained. Eventually, they decided to purchase new fencing for the area for liability reasons at a cost of $13,800 from Custom Fencing.

There was also a lot of discussion about whether to continue injecting fluoride into the town’s water supply. Street, Water and Park Superintendent Steve Marquart said if they discontinue it, they need to write a letter to the State Department of Health and have the equipment removed so they couldn’t use it again.

Long said this discussion has been going on nationwide for years. Marquart said the thinking now is it’s better to self-medicate than mass medicate and, depending on how much water one drinks, they could be getting too much. Gall pointed out the levels in the water is safe.

Marquart said some communities like Mentone and Columbia City have already discontinued it. They discussed the cost savings if they stopped and decided it would be about $1,500 a month.

Van Buren Township Trustee Becky Alles said that childhood tooth decay is high in the area and he wanted them to make the decision based on health benefits versus cost savings.

Gall reported she received the first draft of the water and wastewater rate study from LWG (London Witte Group) that they started last year. She said that according to the report, the average water user now is billed $24.85 a month and to just cover their operating costs they’d need to raise that to $27.59, but if they had $1 million in bond for needed projects that rate should be $37.24.

The report included comparable cities and towns and showed that Etna Green’s average user is charged $49.14 and Middlebury’s rate is $32.98. She said their rates are only higher than Wakarusa and Bristol. She said the last rate study was in 2015.

Ruch said, “My input is to raise the rates enough to cover operating expenses and as these improvements come about we look for other ways to fund (them).”

Long said, “That’s what gotten us to this point – I can’t see us continue just squeaking by. These things were discussed before I got on council. More importantly, we know we’ve got issues underground that aren’t going away. We have to really think about this – I don’t see just raising the minimum amount to keep functioning is a wise choice.”

Ruch defended his comment by saying he believes the town has prospects for increased users. “Right now part of our problem with the water and wastewater is we don’t have enough users. I think it’s in Milford residents' best interest to cover expenses shows we’re frugal in our decisions,” he said.

Long responded, “Just getting by isn’t fiscally responsible – being able to address issues as they occur is in my opinion fiscally responsible.”

Gall said the last wastewater study was done in 2019 by Baker Tilly who suggested they’d need to raise the rates to $50.07 but the Council didn’t want to do that so the Council approved raising the rates to $46.50. LWG’s report showed they’d need the rates to be $52.56 just to meet operating costs and if they’d have a $1 million bond the rate would need to be $60.10.

That information set off a resident who said the Council should have raised the rate to the maximum two years ago, saying they “can’t keep coming back for more.”

The Council will look over the information and come back with more thoughts next month.

In other business, the Council:

• Approved having LWG create a fiscal plan for the proposed annexation of lots on the east side on the north park subdivision at a cost of $6,250.

• Approved an on-call agreement with USI Consulting Services at their billable hourly rate to reapply for trail grant and to assist with Community Crossing grant.

• Approved paying for clarifier repairs not to exceed $14,190 with Brad Robinson.

• Approved having body work done on 2020 truck at cost of $1,271.88.

• Heard leaf pick up starting soon and residents are asked to place piles of leaves in a long pile away from vehicles and mailboxes with no sticks, rocks or trash mixed in.

• Heard hydrants were being flushed Wednesday and today. Residents may notice some slight discoloration in the water. Residents are encouraged to sign up for Reach Alert so they can be notified right away about any changes. Check at town hall or the website for instructions.

• Announced trick-or-treat hours are Saturday, Oct. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. Residents and visitors to Milford are asked to be extra careful when driving through town during trick-or-treat hours.