At a cost to taxpayers of $25,000, the 2011 City of Gardner DirectionFinder Survey raises some interesting questions.
Touted by city officials as being a necessary guide for Gardner’s future, we’re confused when we compare it to the city’s proposed budget.
Traffic flow, street maintenance and utility costs are consistently mentioned as concerns.
At 58 percent, traffic flow ranked as the highest concern of respondents, city street maintenance second and city utilities was third; although those statistics all lag behind the number one selection of the top three items: the number one response in some categories was “none chosen” at 20-30 percent. Those responses were excluded from final statistical data.
Satisfaction with the city’s swimming pool, golf course and the recreation fees charged decreased between 2009 and 2011, with a significant 10 percent drop of satisfaction with utility rates.
Yet the council’s proposed budget calls for utility increases over the next three years and little funding is available for street projects.
The proposed budget appears prioritized towards staff and municipal awards: for example continued tree planting to earn Tree City certification and parking lot repair. Although we love trees, we’re curious if some of those funds wouldn’t be better spent towards snow removal or street repair.
And while we believe in continuing education, if you removed all the conferences, workshops and association dues, the council might be able to eke out a raise for city employees.
And does the city really need to budget two newsletters, a park mailer and a website to communicate? It seems overkill and money saved could be spent repairing/paving roads or hiring additional police officers. According to the survey, respondents’ satisfaction with focus on public safety education programs and emphasis to combat drug activity have also decreased by 7 and 6 percent respectively.
While residents chosen for the survey were selected on a random basis, the majority of respondents — about 66 percent – had lived in the community for less than 10 years, and most – about 90 percent – were homeowners as opposed to renters. About 75 percent indicated they had moved from a larger Kansas City suburb or the greater Kansas City area, with Olathe and Overland Park mentioned frequently.
The majority of respondents — 70 percent — were under 54 and roughly 73 percent reported household incomes under 100 thousand with a majority being between $30 and $99 thousand. About 84 percent are employed outside Gardner.
We’re curious as to what list was used to randomly select households for participation: voter list; utility billing addresses; driver’s license records?
And who did the selection?  The survey’s introduction letter is signed by Gardner’s mayor, but we’re assuming the actual selection process was done by the survey’s administrators, ETC Institute of Olathe.
The placement and wording of questions and answers within the survey is also interesting; as answers in many cases seem weighted towards those choices at the top of the list.
And in some instances, it appears the list is not updated. For example, about 6 percent of the respondents said they get city information from the Olathe Daily News, which was purchased by the Kansas City Star and ceased publication several years ago. There is, however, a “neighborhood” zoned Olathe section in the Star and an online presence.
In all, 816 households, of the 2000 selected responded. When you exclude the “none chosen” or “no opinion” answers that’s a small percentage of responses for a community with a population approaching 20,000.
But really, it’s a moot point.
If the city actually followed the survey, the budget priorities would be traffic, street repair, utility rates and police.