11/04/11 — County: Tell us what you think

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County: Tell us what you think

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 4, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County residents, or at least a sampling of them, could soon find themselves with the opportunity to let county officials know what they think about certain topics, possibly including the quality of customer service.

Using a survey to help gather that kind of information is a way that the county can offer the public the chance to be involved, county officials say.

"How do you really get, other than people coming up here (public comments at board meetings) for three minutes and saying, 'This is what I think,' how do you really get them involved?" County Manager Lee Smith told commissioners during their Tuesday morning meeting.

Smith said he and county public affairs and marketing manager Barbara Arntsen have met with officials of Insight Research Inc., a North Carolina company that does most of the surveys for counties and cities in the state. It is made up of former administrators and analysts and one is even a psychologist, he said.

Smith told commissioners he was not asking for money, but whether the board was interested in seeking the opinion of the community.

"What do you want to ask them?," he said "Is it about, let's say solid waste? Maybe it is some other issue. Maybe it is about recreation. Maybe it is about medical services or health. But you have go to ask folks specific questions. You are not guiding the survey, but you ask. If it is open ended there will be a million items."

Smith said it would be a mail-out survey that company officials said still generates the best results.

"You are talking $10,000 to $12,000 to do a countywide survey and getting back several thousand responses," he said. "That it is really tough. We have done some surveys where we get 100 or 200 back if you are lucky. You don't want to drive the questions. You want honest answers.

"Typically one thing you will find is that citizens are not well-informed. That is a big problem so some of it is how do you ask those things? Do they want it through the TV stations, radio station, more print ads? How do you do that? You have to get them involved. There is no way to go out and talk to 123,000 people, but we can go survey several thousand and get responses back."

"You can do a countywide service for $10,000?" Commissioner Jack Best asked.

The survey does not go to everyone in the county, Smith said.

Chairman J.D. Evans said the county has not done a survey since he has been on the board and that he would like to see one.

Smith said people could be asked about customer satisfaction to see if the public feels the county is doing a good or bad job.

"So what you are asking is that we do not point (the survey company) in the direction to go," said Commissioner Steve Keen. "We just give them concerns and questions and they formulate those in a way they do it professionally. Then they go out and assimilate the information. We have to come up with the issue or concerns."

Smith said that was right.

"You just don't go out there and say, 'What do you think?' because you will never get anywhere," Smith said.

Also, responses could vary from rural to urban areas, Keen said.

Smith said the company would look at postal routes and other factors such as those people living inside a city's extra-territorial jurisdiction.

"As long as it is not skewed like some of these political (surveys)," Commissioner John Bell said.

Best asked if the county would be better served to spend more to gather more responses.

Smith said a larger survey would not necessarily bring in more or better data.

Keen noted that the town of Mount Olive had done similar surveys in connection with its comprehensive land use and transportation planning committees.

"I think it is a good idea," Keen said.

Commissioners told Smith to schedule a work session with Insight officials to discuss a possible survey.