CHARLESTOWN — Town council members voted at their Monday meeting to authorize Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz to solicit proposals from professional firms for a town-wide survey.
The town’s fiscal year 2019-20 budget of $28 million sets aside up to $74,500 for a survey of residents’ priorities. The funds were refunded to the town by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred during a blizzard in February 2013.
After a discussion of the possible survey parameters, council President Virginia Lee said the professional firm ultimately chosen by the town will determine the survey’s design.
“My overall concerns are that we get a professional, respected surveyor and that they design the survey, not us, not anybody else, because that’s what we’re hiring — their expertise,” she said.
Lee noted that voters as well as taxpayers would be polled. A recent count shows 6,000 registered voters in the town.
“To me, it’s important that it’s townwide and principally focused on the voters …. First voters, then taxpayers if there’s a way to distinguish those in the survey without doubling the price. I would really want to hear what the priorities are of the citizens of this town, particularly for what they want to spend money on,” she said.
The survey was proposed following the June 3 defeat of the first town budget, which included the allocation of a $3.1 million surplus to the construction of a new community center at Ninigret Park. Residents rejected the budget, demanding more input into how the surplus would be spent, if it was spent at all.
The council removed the $3.1 million from the construction line item, refunded $1 million of that amount to taxpayers in the form of a lower tax levy, and promised that residents would be consulted regarding the town's spending priorities. In a subsequent referendum on July 29, the revised budget passed.
Council Vice President Deborah Carney pointed out that residents might prefer that the town’s surplus, which is expected to increase this year, be returned to taxpayers, an option that she said should be included in the survey.
“This notion that we have to build something with the money, that’s not a given,” she said. “Some of the ideas we heard during the budget issue when we were discussing the surplus, we got a lot of emails from people. Some suggested doing some sort of affordable housing initiative, setting up some kind of trust. I think those ideas need to be out there.”
Councilor David Wilkinson told the council that its first task was to find a company to design and conduct the survey.
“Getting the survey company picked is the first thing we have to do. That’s priority one,” he said. “… Once we determine who we want to use, then they’ll need guidance from us in terms of what is the town all about. We’ll have to speak to that, and let them form an unbiased survey.”
The council agreed to instruct Stankiewicz to issue a request for proposals from survey companies. The council will then choose from among the top proposals.
“It’ll be a general RFP,” Stankiewicz told the council. “Once they have an idea of Charlestown and what it’s about, they’ll put in proposals and depending on how many we get, we’ll review them and rank them and if one floats to the top and it’s clearly superior, you will probably just get one. If not, you may get two. We won’t give you more than three.”