Citizen Budget Survey Response Top Previous Efforts
There is an old idiom that says “if you build a better mouse trap the whole world will beat a path to your door”, well the same might be happening when it comes to feedback from the residents of Moose Jaw and the City.
At Tuesday's Council meeting Director of Communications Craig Hemingway presented a report regarding a recent survey on resident views on the upcoming budget and City services. The survey was on the City's website and replaced the now defunct Citizen’s Budget. The new survey was set up using the online survey site Survey Monkey and was not outsourced to a third party to set up and administer.
The Citizen’s Budget was an interactive survey previously used by the City for resident feedback on how they would like the Council to allocate the budget.
“It was earlier this year when discussion took place regarding priority budgeting, City Council decided to forego what was called the Citizen’s Budget. A budget tool that had been put forward in the last three years by the Finance Department and in turn Council wished to obtain another form of feedback in preparation for this year's budget,” Hemingway told Council.
A total of 314 respondents filled out this year's survey up about 100 more respondents than last year.
This year's 15 question survey was conducted September 20 to October 12 and although it asked predominantly budget-related questions it also asked for feedback into resident’s satisfaction with the City's operations and how residents preferred to communicate with City Hall.
“In total 314 respondents (replied) which we viewed could be called a moderate representative view of our citizens. In comparison to the Insightrix Survey, the professional survey company, when they did the survey on curbside this year they received 400 responses and felt that was a significant enough number to get that representative sample,' he said.
The $10,000 Insightrix survey into Curbside Recycling was a telephone based survey which asked 10 neutral questions to find out residents feelings on the move to curbside recycling. It differed by asking 200 people who had recently transitioned to curbside recycling their opinions and 200 yet to be transitioned residents their views. Ultimately it found a large majority opposed the move to curbside recycling.
Hemingway called the response “a good response.”
The majority (26 percent) of respondents were in the 55-64 year age bracket. The remaining 74 percent of respondents were evenly split between the 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and 65 plus age brackets.
The 15 survey questions were either Yes or No, multiple choice / answers and others were open-ended, allowing residents to expand their thoughts and opinions.
Despite being in a digital age of convenience residents expressed a strong desire to be able to communicate with City Hall in a personal manner. Being able to telephone City Hall was the top ranked at 67.10 percent while in person ranked second at 46.45 percent.
Email was the top electronic means of communication residents desired at 51.61 percent. Followed by the City website (moosejaw.ca) at 29.03 percent, text messages at 18.39 percent, mobile app at 14.19 percent (it should be noted the City does not yet have an App) and last social media at 11.94 percent.
The preferred means of communication allowed residents to select multiple choices thereby allowing the overall percentage to exceed the maximum 100 percent.
A unique question gave residents a maximum budget of $100 to spend on what they saw as priorities for their elected officials to spend money on.
In asking residents what their top priority was, core infrastructure (Street / road repair, water delivery, sidewalks, etc) topped the list. The second priority was protective services (fire and police). Third was quality neighbourhoods such as planning, property standards and bylaw enforcement. Parks and Recreation Indoor and Outdoor Facilities infrastructure was fourth virtually tied with Transit. Beautification was fifth and finally Arts and Culture was last.
Balancing the budget also received a mix response in a question allowing multiple choices.
The number one chosen solution was increasing what residents pay the City but increasing taxes was the lowest priority to maintain services.
Residents preferred a combination approach of raising both user fees and taxes 32.28 percent, increase user fees 21.05 percent, introduce new user or service fees 12.63 percent and finally increase property taxes 7.37 percent to maintain services.
There was also a strong sentiment that favoured cuts to services to balance the budget.
To stop providing a particular service was 28.77 percent or reducing service levels was at 23.51 percent.
A combination approach of using reserves, increased municipal taxation, Infrastructure levy and increased utility rates was viewed as the best way to provide additional funding for municipal programs and services at 46.38 percent. Using reserves by themselves was 36.84 percent. Increasing municipal taxation was at 9.54 percent, an infrastructure levy was 6.91 percent and increased utility rates was 0.33 percent.
Asked which best represented their position on taxes the largest number 35.48 percent said they did not support a tax increase and wished to reduce programs and / or services. Whereas 21.61 percent supported a tax increase to enhance services and 13.55 percent supported a tax increase to maintain services. A large number 29.35 percent were unsure on this issue which allowed only one response.
A dedicated tax increase for a specific program such as infrastructure renewal had a majority disapproval of 44.48 percent (27.92 percent strongly disagree and 16.56 percent somewhat disagree) whereas those agreeing were 39.28 percent although the greatest majority was 30.29 somewhat agreeing and 9.09 percent strongly agreeing.
How best for the City to communicate with residents (a question which allowed multiple responses) saw the City of Moose Jaw website topping the list with 66.02 percent, online publications at 40.45 percent, radio at 37.86 percent and newspapers at 21.68 percent.
It also needs to be pointed out here the survey was done online and 18.97 percent of the respondents were 65 years of age and over.
The 2016 Census found Moose Jay’s over 65 years of age population at 19.30 percent.
Two final questions asked what could be done to make the city better.
Answers ranged from firing all members of Administration and starting from scratch, having Council at least appear to be working together, be transparent and honest, more concerts, pay more attention to what citizens are saying, having all members of Council respond to their emails, not envying Council's job and finally “Good Luck!”