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PTC survey: how long is too long?

To say that Peachtree City’s citizen Needs Assessment committee is getting into the down and dirty is an understatement.

At its weekly meeting Thursday, much of the conversation was about how detailed to get with the survey questions.

As with all matters budgetary, there are no easy answers but the group is hopeful to make some headway with a draft survey that will be bandied about at the Dec. 20 meeting.

The group is wary of making the survey onerous and discouraging residents whose input is sorely needed. But how many is just right: 20, 25, 30?

Too few questions and the survey risks having too little data. But if residents are overwhelmed with 50 questions are more, will they make the effort to complete it, or will they ditch it altogether?

These are all judgment calls the committee will be making in coming weeks, but the overarching goal is clear: cranking up the effort in mid-January with a goal of randomly selecting 400 residents representing each subdivision and apartment complex. With that figure, the survey will have a good statistical sampling of the city that comes with a margin of error of plus 5 percent. And it is possible they will manage to get more responses to get an even more reliable set of results.

The committee is tasked with prioritizing city services and how much citizens are willing to pay for those services with property taxes, which are a major chunk of the city’s revenue. The city’s other main source of revenue is sales tax receipts but those figures won’t factor into this exercise, at least not directly.

There was some discussion Thursday about opening the survey up to local business owners, and while a final decision wasn’t made, there were significant fears that doing so might endanger the survey results.

Committee member Phil Prebor said that as a business owner he would like to be able to take the survey. Prebor is also a city resident and in that light, the survey is sure to go to at least a few residents who have business interests in the city, several committee members noted.

While businesses pay property taxes just like residents do, they can have different agendas than residents, some of whom might want to see the city curtail spending in certain areas, said committee member Allen Baldwin.

“The bottom line is if the residents are here and the residents are happy, the businesses are going to be OK,” Baldwin said.

Committee member John Dufresne, who has volunteered to draft the survey questions, suggested the committee focus on areas of the city budget that can be influenced by citizens. It was mentioned that since the stormwater fees don’t use property taxes, that issue be avoided entirely, for example.

“Maybe we need to focus on the aspects of the city that are asking for more chunks of money,” said committee member Holly Machemehl. “... Some need a lot, some don’t need a lot.”

The issue of probing residents about employee pay was also discussed, but no final decisions were made in any regard.

The committee agreed to look to other surveys to judge the appropriate length necessary to meet the group’s goal. A commitment to keep the survey questions unbiased remains at the forefront of discussions as well.

While many on the committee might have strong feelings about what level they’d like to see city spending at, and the commensurate property tax rate, each committee member has been very respectful of others throughout the process so far, as politics have been kept out of the discussion for the most part to keep the eye on the main goal: providing the city council with solid input from citizens on city service levels and property tax rates.

For more information on the committee along with a significant amount of background data, visit www.peachtree-city.org/needs.

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<cite><strong>Don Haddix
Peachtree City Mayor</strong></cite>

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