Millville residents in an informational session on Oct. 30 got a look at the results of a survey that had asked them to look at what they like about their town, what they don’t like and what they would like to see improved.
About 30 residents attended the meeting, hosted by the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee and KCI Technologies Inc., which is assisting the Town with the update of its Comprehensive Plan.
Millville is in the midst of updating its plan, which serves as the blueprint for decisions to be made about development, infrastructure, services and other planning issues in the town.
The members of the Comprehensive Plan Committee are Town Manager Debbie Botchie, Code & Building Official Eric Evans, Mayor Robert Gordon, resident Sally Griffin and Debbie Pfeil, planning consultant for KCI Technologies Inc.
Pfeil, along with project planner Lauren Good of KCI, presented a snapshot of the data provided by the survey, as well as demographic information on Millville that showed population and growth trends since as early as 1910.
Population data shows that Millville’s population stayed around 200 for most of the 20th century, but with annexations and development in the past two decades, has ballooned to more than 1,600.
Although Millville is often seen — as are most of the towns in southeastern Sussex — as a retirement community, the data shows that the fastest-growing age group in the town is children ages 10 to 19. That segment of the town’s population grew 624 percent between 2000 and 2016, from 26 to 273. The next-highest population increase was adults between the ages of 35 and 44 years — a 272 percent increase, from 39 in 2000 to 223 in 2016.
Pfeil told the group that, given those statistics, it’s not surprising that many of the answers to the survey addressed the needs and desires of younger people, and she added that even today’s retirees are seen as more active and wanting a wider selection of activities than those of years past.
The data collected for the comprehensive plan also shows that the largest household income group in Millville is between $50,000 and $75,000, at 26 percent of the population. Since 1970, the number of homes in Millville has risen from 95 to 869, with the biggest jump, by far, coming between 2000 and 2010.
Pfeil said the survey, which was completed by 452 residents and four businesses between May 1 and Aug. 15, provides a picture of what is important to Millville’s residents. Pfeil said she was very pleased with the level of response, adding, “I’ll bet that’s higher than for the town elections.”
“I think it’s really great for your leaders and the community to know what the community wants,” Pfeil said.
While 70 percent of the respondents identified themselves as retired, Pfeil said their responses show that “we have active retirees” and that “their demands are different” than those in the same age group in the past.
In fact, she said, retirees expressed many of the same desires for services and amenities to complement an active lifestyle as younger people did. Conversely, younger respondents expressed desires for homes that demand less maintenance at levels similar to older respondents.
In addition to answering 25 questions (23 for the business survey) the surveys gave respondents the opportunity to address something known among planners as “SWOT” — which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Ten respondents offered their thoughts on those areas, which gives the committee a more in-depth look into the desires and concerns of the community.
Whether the Town needs or wants its own police force was a topic that was came up in many of the responses, Pfeil said.
“It’s an issue that should be addressed” by the Town, she said, adding that KCI will not make a recommendation either way on the subject.
Millville resident Karl Beers expressed during the public-comment portion of the meeting his hopes that the Town will not pursue starting its own police force. He said his background involves work with police and emergency services and, “I know how it dramatically increases costs, so I’m very interested in not seeing that happen. I think we’re fine with the state police.”
Some who answered the survey expressed concern that Millville, as a small town, lacks a voice in county and state concerns. Pfeil said she does not feel that is valid because Millville’s leadership — particularly Botchie and Gordon — are vigilant about representing Millville’s interests in the broader communities.
“Have you met Debbie Botchie? Because she does not have a small voice,” Pfeil said.
Pfeil said the survey was sent out to all property owners and posted on the Town’s web site, so it is difficult to pinpoint a “response rate,” because it was so publicly distributed. She added, however, that the large amount of data collected in the surveys will make for a better report, and therefore be more useful as the Town moves forward in its comprehensive plan update process.
The next step in the process will involve the committee looking at land-use issues in the town, and beginning to prepare a draft plan. Eventually, the plan, which must be updated every 10 years, according to state law, will be submitted to the governor for approval.
The PowerPoint presentation from the Oct. 30 meeting, as well as complete results of the survey, is available online at https://millville.delaware.gov/info/comprehensive-plan-update/.
By Kerin Magill