01/09/12 — County may seek opinions in survey

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County may seek opinions in survey

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 9, 2012 1:46 PM

Would Wayne County residents rather pay for a new school or jail with sales tax money or with property tax money?

Is the county meeting the transportation needs of its citizens?

And are residents familiar with the public health care services available to them?

Those are questions county residents might have a chance to respond to should county commissioners follow through on a proposed countywide survey.

The county has not committed to conducting the survey, but commissioners have talked about how such a poll of residents might help guide them in their decisions.

"Most of the time we know who the movers and shakers are, but how about the other guys, the other 95 percent?" Commissioner J.D. Evans said at a meeting last week.

Tollie Mitchell, program director for Insight Research of Greensboro, told commissioners at the meeting that a survey would take about three months to complete.

"What do you want to know and who do you want to know it from?" Mitchell said. "Also, it is good to have background information about the people who respond such as how long they have lived in the county, where do they live in the county, whether they are retired military."

He said his company works to minimize bias in the questions.

"We are not trying to lead people in one direction or another," he said. "We just want to help you find out what people really think."

The most common ways to conduct the surveys are through first class mailings, the Internet, meetings or even by phone calls, he said.

County Manager Lee Smith said commissioners would have the next few weeks to come up with possible ideas for the survey. Those ideas would then be discussed during a board meeting. There was no indication of when the survey might be taken.

Smith said the survey process is more complex than most people realize and that is why he believed the county needed an expert, "because you don't want to guide or mislead, and to ensure it is fair, reasonable and makes sense."

The survey would be a sampling of county residents because of the prohibitive cost of surveying every one of the county's 120,000 residents, Smith pointed out. But he added that any resident who wished to be part of the survey would be included.

Commissioner Steve Keen said he thinks Mitchell and Smith are on the "right track."

"I understand planning, but sometimes I hate to put surveys together because it just throws away money," Keen said. "There is a lot of money being thrown away on surveys. My concern is understanding the people. I want to know who they are and make them part of the process."

Keen said he wants to ensure that the survey produces a fair picture of the county and is not skewed in any way. The company conducting the survey needs to make sure it gets a good cross-section of responses, he said.

"By understanding that I would hope that you would get some input from not just the county manager, but the county commissioners because we are in districts and we represent those segments, those parts," he said. "And the people in the western part of Wayne County, they are different basically who they are and who their identity is with than the eastern part of Wayne County. I need to see something before I OK anything."

Smith said he was asking for the commissioners' input.

Commissioner Jack Best asked how much the survey would cost.

"I have never seen one go over $25,000," Mitchell said.

The longer and more complicated the survey, the more the cost, he said.

Smith has said the project would probably cost the county $10,000 to $12,000.