The general public is satisfied with the services the city of Gardner provides, according to preliminary results of the 2011 DirectionFinder survey.
“Your community has always had good services here, and expectations are high,” Karen Falk, project manager for the Etc. Institute, told city council members during a work session June 13.
The institute mailed surveys to a random selection of citizens polling their level of satisfaction with a variety of city services. To date, 571 have been returned. The city last conducted a similar survey in 2009.
Residents generally feel safe within the city as the police department received high satisfaction levels. So did the city’s parks department.
The survey revealed concerns citizens have with the quality of new development in the community, how well the city is planning for growth, and what they’re charged for utilities and taxes.
Falk cautioned council members not to dwell too much on those dissatisfied with charges and costs.
“Anything that’s addressed to finances, this is mirrored in the nation,” Falk said. “That’s what’s happening in the rest of the country.”
Although most survey questions were not specific – respondents were asked instead to rate their level of satisfaction on a scale of one through five – the 2011 questionnaire did include a few specific questions.
For example, one question asked “What is the maximum increases in taxes you would be willing to pay per year to fund projects that would improve the condition of city streets, sidewalks and traffic flow in the city of Gardner?”
Less than half are willing to pay at least $20 more in taxes annually – 19 percent would pay $20; 15 percent would pay $40; and 9 percent would pay up to $80 more each year for the improvements.
Less than one-third, 31 percent, said they wouldn’t be willing to pay any more, and 26 percent responded “don’t know.”
A second question asked whether residents would like to see the city’s annual fireworks display moved to Celebration Park. More than two-thirds of respondents, 68 percent, said Gardner Edgerton High School should continue to host the city’s Fourth of July celebration.
A question about whether residents would be willing to watch a webcast of council meetings drew some debate. More than half, 56 percent, said they would not watch council meetings. Forty-one percent said they would.
Council member Chris Morrow requested that council examine the possibility of podcasting future meetings. Council member Dennis Pugh was adamantly opposed.
Why should we spend funds for something like that when we’re already stretched thin, if less than half of the residents would watch it? he asked.
Morrow told council members he believed podcasting could be achieved with little cost to the city.
In an interview following the meeting, Morrow told The Gardner News that another Direction Finder question suggested that residents would like to be more involved.
Only 44 percent of respondents said they were happy with the level of community participation in city decisions.
“We don’t have enough citizens involved in decision making. I think this could be a tremendous tool to bring some people back to getting involved that might be disenchanted or bring some people in paying attention to specific issues,” he said. “If we can get citizens involved, I think we do it in whatever increments we can and always strive for more.”
He said he believes some form of webcasting could be achieved in a cost-effective manner.
“I would say that something that is inside the spending guidelines for the city administrator, which that’s $5,000 or below. If we end up podcasting, we can do it for significantly less than that,” Morrow said. “Maybe 20 percent of that.”
Falk said the preliminary results of the Direction Finder survey have a four-point margin of error.
When final results are tabulated, she said it should be a three-point margin.