Many school and city officials agree that attracting and retaining young families should be a priority for Stoughton, but first, they might want to find out if that’s what the rest of the community wants.
At the Aug. 27 meeting of the ad hoc committee of the Stoughton City Council, Stoughton Area School District and Stoughton Chamber of Commerce, presenter Randy Stoecker, of UW-Madison suggested the group study Stoughton and its young adults rather than attempting to implement any of the specific successes noticed by the months-old study he presented.
That study, “Gaining and Maintaining Young People in Wisconsin Communities,” was released in December 2017 and has been a starting point for the committee’s recent discussions on the need to attract young families to the area.
Committee co-chair Jon Coughlin told the Hub in an email Tuesday that the study found each community studied had “unique characteristics that attracted and retained young families.” He said the committee expressed unanimous interest in both studying Stoughton and providing some actionable suggestions to the school board and Common Council to improve in attracting and retaining young families.
“Randy Stoecker and other UW Extensions staff are available to help us build and execute a study of our own,” he wrote. “We plan to bring the beginnings of such an arrangement to the next ad-hoc committee meeting.”
The theme of the study fit with the committee’s mission statement, which it adopted July 23, to “Make Stoughton a community of choice that attracts and retains young families.” The school board adopted that mission statement last month.
Committee member Kathleen Hoppe, of the school board, said the committee was fortunate to have access to an “objective report on what is working” in other Wisconsin communities. Hoppe, who moved here two years ago “so our daughter could begin middle school in a place we researched and chose,” said if Stoughton is to thrive, elected officials need to look at “hard, objective data,” and not “just what their own circle says.”
“I hope we will use (Stoecke) and his team’s developed method of looking at Stoughton,” she told the Hub in an email.
Hoppe said presentation demonstrated some of the problems Stoughton, including an “old guard” in power “thinking they know what’s best and pushing their ideas.”
Hoppe said in her conversations with community members, she found that “with no hesitations,” they wanted “small, controlled growth,” which meant single-family homes, not condos or apartments.
She said that sort of growth doesn’t help bring in young people who are just beginning to find their financial footing.
“Young people today, saddled with huge debt from college loans, cannot afford a home,” she said. “There is a very real bias against those who rent and a tough-for-them approach to drawing new people here.”
Coughlin said the committee will ask the board and the council for deadlines for actions and results.
Its next meeting is at 7 p.m. Sept. 24.
The board had been meeting roughly quarterly last year, but the next meeting will be the third consecutive month.
Coughlin encouraged younger people – “especially community members in the 20-39 year age range” to help “share in the process” of its study of the community by attending meetings.