Former Town Council member Julie McClintock, who also worked for the EPA, has participated in many planning efforts. She offers her reaction to the town’s priority-budgeting survey:
In a recent email from the Town, I was invited to take a budget survey to show “what [I] value.”
Since I’m an engaged citizen, I took the survey. I now have a queasy feeling about my responses and wonder how they might be used. I know it’s a tough budget year, and it’s reasonable that our town administrators want some idea of what people think before they increase taxes — something I’ve been expecting for a while, since depleting the town’s reserves is not sustainable.
The survey questions were indefinable and ambiguous, so I could not tell what I was ranking or how it applied to town services. For instance:
5. Rank each of the Town’s Safety Objectives from most important to least:
Regulatory Compliance – Ensures regulatory compliance in order to protect property, the environment and the lives of its residents and visitors
Emergency – Protects the community by justly enforcing the law, promptly responding to calls for service and being prepared for all emergency situations
Safe Environment – Creates a secure, well-regulated, well-maintained community that is healthy, clean, well-lit and visually attractive
Community Presence – Fosters a feeling of personal safety through a visible and approachable presence that ensures proactive prevention and responds to community concerns
If I want more police to deal with the rash of break-ins we’ve seen in Chapel Hill this spring, which one do I rank highly? From these confusing choices, how could staff make valid conclusions that reflect community values, the stated purpose of the survey?
So here’s my survey response. I expect Chapel Hill to be able to provide high quality public safety, waste/recycling collection and first-rate recreation. After all, we’ve been doing those things for a long time. I’m pleased the town re-upped our commitment to a premier public library. I like our free bus system — but now that we have embraced the regional transportation plan, the stakes are higher. In that context, I’d like to see a hard look at our local bus system to find ways to better service our residents — not just students and employees of UNC. Oh, I fully expect to achieve this without compromising the environment — particularly water quality — and in a way that enriches the quality of life for every homeowner who has made Chapel Hill their home.
I’ll add — although it never came up in the survey — that I fully support including community members in planning the density of downtown and the land use map for the 2020 focus areas in a way that does not compromise the taxpayers who are funding the town today. Certainly property owners in Chapel Hill have the right to enjoy predictable zoning and a development planning process that makes protecting existing properties a priority.
None of my priorities were evident in the survey — and now I wonder whether I should have responded at all. I wish that the Town and the Council had used the opportunity to communicate clearly and directly with its citizens. Instead, they seem poised to create a nebulous framework, which may be used to justify projects and initiatives that may or may not fit my values or priorities.
If the Town insists on using surveys to inform its policy, aren’t they obligated to design statistically valid surveys that accurately capture representative opinions about real world choices? Do I want my street paved? Do I want to see the stream protection ordinance enforced? What response time is acceptable for the fire, police or ambulance to get to my house? Those are tough choices, but since these are the real choices that need to be made, shouldn’t citizens be asked to weigh in on them?
Maybe I’m old fashioned but I’d prefer that the Town abandon the surveys and the priority based budgeting system and move back to the old way of doing budgeting — making hard choices. So go ahead and take the survey and say what you think. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SGQRRXS.
— Julie McClintock