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Longboat Key Monday, Oct. 21, 2019 8 months ago

One-county question likely on town's citizen survey

Residents will be asked about key issues, customer service in early 2020.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Working with University of South Florida, the town is planning to survey residents in early 2020 with a dual purpose: to get a read on key topics such as the town’s one-county question and begin establishing a trend lines for customer-service and quality-of-life issues.

The project is expected to kick off in January, and a final report is anticipated in April. Initial mailers will be sent to all residential addresses in town, alerting residents to the impending arrival of a second mailer about a week later.

The second mailer will include instructions on how to participate in the online survey and will include a unique scratch off ID number, assigned by a third-party for anonymity, though it will identify a survey participant by the county in which they live. A reminder mailer will be dispatched to those who don’t initially participate in the survey.

A sample of between 300-500 respondents is required for validity, the town says. Town Manager Tom Harmer said the advantage of such a survey over a straw poll or similar added to an election ballot is the size of the sample (every address vs. registered voters who turn out to cast a ballot)

USF’s John Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government will help write the approximately 25 questions submitted to residents, in consultation with town officials to ensure town-specific language is used and town-related issues are addressed. Sarasota County in September received results from its 28th citizen survey.

Town officials made a priority of establishing the citizen survey at a strategic planning workshop last spring. $20,000 was set aside in the fiscal 2020 budget to accomplish the project. Support Services Director Carolyn Brown said in an email the contract with USF is for $13,365, and the town would also pay the mailing costs. 

One of the topics likely appear on the survey is a question about the possibility of someday eliminating the county border that splits the town between Manatee and Sarasota counties. The timing of that question’s appearance on the survey gave commissioners reason to stop and consider the possible implications. Town Manager Tom Harmer offered the option of including the one-county question in the survey, or possibly adding it as a straw-poll question in town elections in March, August or November.

Commissioners are in the process of formulating plans to solicit funding assistance from Manatee County for beach projects on Greer Island. “Do you want time to flesh out some of those negotiations before you ask or does that matter,” Harmer said.

“It’s very clear that in the same time we’re asking for money, we’re thinking about walking away,” Mayor George Spoll said.  “The refusal of the county to support us financially is one of the major arguments for leaving, so it’s an interesting dichotomy.”

Commissioners in a workshop earlier this month came to a consensus that the question belonged on the early 2020 survey, but Vice Mayor Ed Zunz recommended some context be furnished to residents on the complicated issue rather than simply rolling out a question with little or no background information.

Commissioner Ken Schneier, while saying he hadn’t really formed a deep opinion either way, said he was concerned about the survey returning a vague answer

“In terms of the timing we have going on, especially with Manatee County, we have some things in the works that will work themselves out in the next year,’’ he said. “And I can see both sides of having a survey out there. If the result is not very clear I’m not sure it helps us. In either event, maybe, it could cast the die on which way Manatee wants to go.”

Planning & Zoning Board member and former commissioner Phill Younger said he was gratified to see the commission heading toward asking Manatee for financial assistance on the beach work, but warned of missing the bigger point.

 “Don’t tie yourselves up with short-term gains, such as the groins, to buy off a long-term relationship,” he said. “I can see Manatee all of a sudden being cooperative and throwing a salve to hold on to us for the long-term.”

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