Finance board looks to survey residents
The Board of Finance is considering surveying residents to get a sense of where its financial focus should be for Wilton’s fiscal year 2019 budget and mill rate.
“In the past, the town has surveyed residents to get a sense of what their priorities are,” Richard Creeth said during the board’s Dec. 19 meeting.
“On this board, we’re always looking for more information about what’s important to townspeople.”
Through some online research, Creeth said, he found New Jersey-based firm Quantisoft, which has “a lot of experience with survey work,” including “some with towns.”
Customers of the firm have included schools and school districts, public agencies like the Port Authority of New York, “a couple of cities,” said Creeth, and “a lot of companies,” including PerkinElmer.
The Board of Finance’s survey would be conducted as an anonymous online survey and include demographic questions to make sure the board has “a representative sample of each demographic group,” said Creeth.
Around 350 residents would need to respond to the survey in order for the board to get “statistically meaningful conclusions,” he said.
To drive traffic, Quantisoft CEO and founder Howard Deutsch suggested using the notification service company Nixle.
“It’s a bit like our Code Red,” said Creeth, “except it uses email.”
Creeth said the anonymity factor “triggered a few questions,” but Deutsch told him he believes that’s “the way to do it.”
Questions and concerns
Creeth said he asked Deutsch about prevention or detection of “fraudulent or duplicate responses,” to which Deutsch replied that the firm “can’t prevent” but “can detect potential duplicate online survey responses.”
In an email, Deutsch told Creeth that “people typically don’t submit more than one survey response” because it “takes time to complete the survey” and “few, if any, people complete more than one.”
Deutsch further explained that Quantisoft looks at the IP address for “every completed survey response received.” If two or more responses are received from the same IP address, the firm reviews the responses to see if they’re identical or similar.
If they are, Deutsch said, “we delete the second or additional response.”
“While we always follow this review process,” Deutsch continued, “we almost never find the need to delete responses.”
Creeth said he also asked how the board could “account for sample bias, such as a coordinated response from a particular group.” Deutsch explained that the survey results would be sorted by “each of the demographics, as well as the town of Wilton overall.”
Creeth said he will ask Deutsch if the board would be able to see “what the demographics were by each group” in order to see if there’s any disproportion.
Finance board member Stewart Koenigsberg said Quantisoft has “good credentials” and the pros are clear — “this is a professional organization that’s done this type of thing before — they’ve got a lot of experience — and they’ve got a good client list.”
The cons, Koenigsberg said, are timing, getting “the right people” in a “very quick timespan” to design the survey questions, and “soliciting a response from a broad group of people who are willing to invest the time.”
Koenigsberg said he believes the latter will “create some natural bias.”
“The people who will want to invest the time, I think, are going to be the same people who are going to show up at our meetings — Board of Education meetings in particular,” he said.
Timing of the survey “could be better,” said Creeth.
“Howard feels strongly that you need to keep the survey open for four to six weeks to get a realistic response,” he said, “which means that even if we started in mid-January, we’re not looking at getting results until toward the end of March, which is an issue.”
One function of the finance board is to “present the town” as it deliberates for the mill rate, said Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser.
“We have more of a responsibility to get it right by the townspeople than the [Board of Selectmen and Board of Education] do,” he said. “This [survey] would be quite valuable before that last week in March.”
If the survey were designed the first half of January, started before the end of January and kept open for four weeks, Creeth said, “theoretically, we could get that.”
Creeth said Quantisoft is willing to help the board design a survey for a fixed price of $6,000, with an optional executive summary with “more intense analysis and itemization” for an additional $3,200.
Rutishauser said the Board of Finance has a “small budget” that could be used to pay for the survey. However, that budget, as Chief Financial Officer Anne-Kelly Lenz pointed out, currently has “an excess of about $4,000.” Rutishauser said that could be “a limiting factor.”
“It’d be really bad if we overspent our own budget,” he said. “We’ll look into it, run some numbers off [and] do a little research.”