Are you happy with Waterford’s schools? Satisfied with garbage services? Think the town did a good job clearing snow from roads and sidewalks? See a need for more services for seniors? Waterford’s elected officials want to know and, to find out, the town is conducting a citizen satisfaction survey.
Waterford Director of Finance Rudie Beers came up with the idea of a survey because, frankly, town officials don’t get a lot of feedback from residents. “We don’t see a whole lot of the citizenry at any of the administrative or the legislative meetings,” said Beers. “We hear a lot from the representatives and from members of the Board of Selectmen about citizen dissatisfaction but it’s always nebulous, nothing’s pointing to specifics. We’re really trying to put our fingers on the pulse of what the taxpayers feel and their satisfaction levels.”
Invitations to participate in the survey were mailed out to 2,000 Waterford households two weeks ago. The address list was selected at random using motor vehicle records rather than property records, Beers said, because “we didn’t want to restrict it to just property owners. We try to get a cross-section of all of the residents. The only way we could do that, and get tenants as well, was to take the motor vehicle list.”
Waterford residents don’t need an invitation to participate, however. To encourage as many Waterford residents as possible to respond to the anonymous survey by the June 15 deadline, Beers has also posted it online at the Town of Waterford web site.
The Research Bureau of Worcester, Mass., created the survey in 2008 for the New England States Government Finance Officers Association, of which Beers is a member. Since then, it has been used to measure government performance in towns throughout New England, from Maine to Rhode Island, where city leaders have used it to help them decide what services to cut and what services to add.
For $1,500, the Research Bureau will analyze the survey data and compare Waterford’s results to those collected from other towns with similar populations and systems of government, Beers said. Waterford policy makers will then use that information to make changes and improvements to the services the town delivers.
“Basically it’s an opportunity to determine what services are being used and what’s needed,” said Waterford First Selectman Daniel M. Steward. “It’s very hard to sit here in the dark. Many times people won’t tell you what they think. It’s very hard to get information that’s clear and concise. I don’t expect it to be all encompassing but it’s a way of getting some direction.”
Beers says she expects the information to be most useful when it comes to creating the budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013.
“These are tough economic times and the administration really wanted to focus on what the citizens felt were their priorities in terms of services they receive from the town,” said Beers. “As we’re agonizing over the budget, it’s difficult in tough times to have to make those decisions. That’s why this initiative was undertaken. We need to know where our taxpayers are coming from and what services they feel we should be improving, because they’re footing the bill.”