The City of Fernandina Beach is scheduled to launch this week a Citizen Survey to gauge quality of life concerns.
City Manager Dale Martin hired a consultant for $14,265 to ask 1,500 residents to rank by importance a range of issues, from public safety and parks to housing and air quality.
According to a survey timeline, pre-notification postcards will be sent Wednesday and they will be followed by “two waves” of survey mailings on July 19 and July 26. A link to an opt-in web survey is proposed for posting on the city website on Aug. 16.
National Research Center Inc. in Boulder, Colorado is conducting the survey. A draft report is expected Sept. 26 and a final report is set for Oct. 4.
According to documents released in a records request, there are dozens of questions and city officials had opportunity to customize four of them. Here’s one:
Please indicate how important – if at all – the following projects and issues would be to address over the next five years: a recreation center, public safety building, preservation of open space/undeveloped land, and maintaining and expanding sidewalks and pathways.
While all choices may sound essential, one person familiar with Citizen Survey says it is important to pay attention to the follow-up question about funding.
“That’s when you’ll be asked to put your money where your mouth is,” says Cindi Lane, the communications and marketing manager for Palm Coast, a city in Flagler County between St. Augustine and Daytona that has taken the Citizen Survey annually since 2002, except last year.
On the proposed Fernandina survey, there is a follow-up question asking, “Please indicate to what extent would you would support or oppose a dedicated millage (tax levy) to fund police and fire stations, pools and courts, ball fields, playgrounds, and the purchase of open space or conservation lands.
The custom questions are tucked into the survey among queries about salary and how often you’ve been to the library or used public transportation. The results are said to allow a municipality to compare quality of life issues with some 500 communities around the country.
“That’s an advantage,” she said.
“There’s no ability to ‘write-in’ a response to a question,” she said.
By phone Monday, Ms. Lane said Palm Coast opted out of the survey in 2016 over concerns with the small sampling of the city’s 85,000 residents.
“I believe in it,” she said. “But some council members didn’t buy into that it was statistically valid.”
So this year, the city wrote its own questions and sent them to residents via ‘Survey Monkey,’ an online tool. Ms. Lane said they had iPad stations set up at City Hall and the Utility Billing office to allow people to post online while conducting city business. She said people also had the option of completing paper surveys. “We had a staff member key in answers,” she said. “Where you see a black box that’s…
Blocking a dirty word?
“Yes,” she said.
Ms. Lane said some 4,000 people responded and comments collected in February and March are posted on the government website at (www.palmcoastgov.com). She said officials are also planning to host four town hall meetings.
One question Palm Coast asked residents: what would make you leave? Many comments mentioned jobs, a lack of activities, and congestion. Here’s a sampling:
“Not enough to do.”
“There are no jobs that you can make a decent living.”
“Horrible traffic situation.”
“Overdevelopment and congestion.”
Some residents noted a strict approach to code enforcement. Rules against parking commercial vehicles and RVs in residential driveways irked people who take the company truck home. So what if it advertises a business, they maintained? They also did not believe the rules are applied equally.
Many people mentioned the need for more street lights. In March, a 16-year-old girl died in an area with few lights, according to local news reports. Several months earlier, another teen died in a hit and run crash in the same area because, people maintained, a lack of proper lighting.
Some residents noted an increase in crime. Over the last five days, the city has used its twitter account (@palmcoastnow) to send out public safety messages about locking doors and windows.
There was also mention about the high cost of water.
The city tweeted Monday not to use the toilet as an ashtray or wastebasket because “every time you flush, five to seven gallons of water is wasted.” On July 5, the city tweeted about the value of “low-flow” toilets, pegging the annual savings at $81.30.
Ms. Lane said messages are often tied to public feedback. But, she said, it was important not to “overanalyze” the information.
“Do we have a problem or do we have a perception of a problem?” she said.
Ms. Lane, who has been on the job for four years, said residents claimed concern several years ago about the quality of the city’s water. She said the survey was issued at the same time water rates went up.
“We have great water so we thought that was a perception (issue),” she said.
Still, the city took action.
Ms. Lane said officials pumped out messages about awards the city had won for its water quality and also named the entire staff of the city water department ‘Grand Marshal’ for a city parade.
“We didn’t freak out,” she said. “We let people know the true situation.”
Ms. Lane estimated that Palm Coast paid $13,000 for its 2015 study and expects the city will again conduct the Citizen Survey next year. “We’re planning every other year,” she said.
Mr. Martin announced the survey in his June 30 column to local news outlets and he urged all residents (who will be randomly selected to participate) to thoughtfully complete the survey. He said officials will learn important insight on what services are working and what services can be improved.
“Instead of simply reacting, we will, for perhaps the first time, have data upon which decisions can be more reliably based,” he said.
“The information gathered will directly impact future decisions of the City Commission and direction to City staff. Thank you in advance for your participation.”
Note Representatives from the National Research Center did not respond last week to a phone request for comment.