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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Cottonwood Heights to survey public opinion

Dec 04, 2019 08:47AM ● By Cassie Goff

“If it turns out we are spending more than our neighbors, do we still want in-house police?” asked Councilmember Tali Bruce. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

During the first few weeks of November, a city survey was distributed to gather resident feedback on a variety of topics. That survey was a continuation of a series contracted with Y2 Analytics. The first resident survey was distributed in 2016, with a follow-up survey occurring in 2017. As the research team aimed to wrap up fielding before the Thanksgiving holiday, results from the survey should be posted to the city website shortly (as of publication). In addition, the survey may be made available for residents who were not randomly selected on the city’s website and social media channels. 

The survey was sent out to a statistically valid random sample of registered voters in Cottonwood Heights. It contained 65 questions, which was estimated to take about 12 to 15 minutes to complete. “In Cottonwood Heights, our registered voter population is quite high so that’s considerable coverage. And [the council members] answer most directly to those registered voters who hold [the council members] accountable on election day,” said Y2 Analytics Vice President of Research Kyrene Gibb.

Gibb visited the council’s meetings on a few separate occasions to revise the questions that would be asked. During discussions, Councilmember Christine Mikell requested that the survey be open for every resident. “How much is the cost to send it to everybody in our city? If it’s so important to us that we want to hear from everyone, we should make it available for everybody.”

“It’s more than we budgeted. We budgeted for a random sample,” replied City Manager Tim Tingey.  

Gibb went on to explain that there may be differences reflected in data sets between the statistical sampling approach the city has done previously and a census coverage approach. With statistical sampling, the data reflects a general overview of public opinion. However, with a census approach, it is more likely to get biased responses as the responses generally come from residents who are actively looking to participate with the city. 

“Inviting a random subset of residents who may or may not seek out that participation with the city on their own has proven to be a more cost-effective way to accurately measure the broad view of public opinion,” Gibb said. 

Mikell further explained her concern. “As a resident, I want to feel like my opinion is valued and I want to participate in this survey. If I’m not picked in that random survey, I’m a little bit miffed. I want to be able to provide my feedback if I choose to.”

Tingey responded, “I was involved in a community where we opened it up to the whole citizenry to try and get everyone’s input. We were significantly criticized, especially by the academic community, because it wasn’t a scientifically random sample. I’ve been criticized on the other side for not getting accurate data.”

Gibb presented a potential “political midway compromise point.” The survey would still be sent out to a random sample of registered voters. After Y2 Analytics retrieved all the data from that survey and generated a findings report, the survey would be made open-access for any resident who wanted to take it. As of publication, that potential compromise had not been finalized, but the council “will maintain the option,” Mikell said.  

During a follow-up meeting, the City Council discussed what types of questions and topics should be included in those 65 questions. One topic up for debate between the council members was storm water. The survey question was drafted to read, “Should the city use existing funds and reduce other expenditures or assess a new storm water fee and maintain current expenditure levels?”

“You’ll get a sense of how willing residents are to pay for additional service and maintenance,” Gibb said. 

Council members Mike Shelton and Tali Bruce pointed out that this question could be asked in reference to roads, recyclables, sustainability and police. 

“I think we are missing a very valuable window,” Bruce said. “As we do budget comparisons, if it turns out we are spending 10% more than our neighbors, do we still want in-house police?” 

Bruce continued by contextualizing her suggestion. Over the next year, one of the council’s goals is to compare the costs of services in Cottonwood Heights with neighboring cities. If that comparison shows Cottonwood Heights is paying a premium for in-house police, the public should have an opportunity to say “yes, it’s worth it to us. We want to pay no matter what,” she said. 

Councilmember Scott Bracken replied, “To an extent, the public has said that and you’re ignoring it: and you’ve continued to ignore it. The public has said on each and every single one of these surveys that we have done from the beginning that they like our police.”

“This is not questioning their job performance,” replied Bruce. “We have fantastic officers. They do a fantastic job.” 

Mayor Michael Peterson drew the conversation back to the focus of Bruce’s question. “There is agreement that we should know what the costs are. We should know what the direct and indirect costs are. But I am not personally comfortable to say that we’ve seen those numbers and that they say we pay a premium for police.” 

Tingey followed up as well. “If we are going to evaluate every department of our whole administration and are evaluating whether to outsource or not, that frustrates me significantly and impacts morale in a way I’m not happy with.” 

“We have to run this a little bit like a business,” Bruce said. “We have to be a little bit accountable to our stakeholders. We don’t get to just take their taxes and spend through the roof. And say we aren’t going to talk about budget because it might hurt morale.”

“You always want to be transparent and efficient in government. But this is not a private business,” Tingey replied. “Government is never a private business. There’s different implications for the services we provide then a private business.”

It was ultimately decided that a similarly worded question pertaining to police would not be included in this round of surveying. However, a suggestion was made to conduct a survey when accurate budget comparisons are available.