October 11, 2016 - 6:30 PM
VERNON - Less than one per cent of the population has participated so far in a brand new survey focussed on how taxpayer dollars are spent — but that’s actually not bad compared to the amount of public input in the past.
The interactive survey takes about ten minutes to complete and is a new initiative by the city to increase public participation, which has been lacking in previous years. To date, 230 people have completed the survey, which allows participants to adjust funding levels in various departments — such as police, public works, and recreation — and view the impacts of each budget cut or addition.
“One of the things pointed out by our chief administrative officer is that (230 responses) is about 228 per cent higher than we’ve ever had in previous budget exercises,” communications officer Tanya Laing Gahr says.
Previously, the only formal opportunity to provide input was to attend a budget meeting in December and speak directly to city council. Only a small handful of people did.
“I think in the past we haven’t done as good a job reaching out to the community and finding out how they feel about things,” Laing Gahr says. “I think this is a great way of checking in with the community and seeing what they want and what we can continue to strive to do better at.”
While citizens are encouraged to provide input at any time through emails, letters or phone calls, it’s hoped the new, user-friendly survey will drive up public engagement.
“To use something this interactive to give people the opportunity not just to answer yes or no questions, but to actually give that kind of feedback about where they’d like to see the levels of service and how they’d propose balancing that with tax dollars is completely new,” Laing Gahr says.
In the past, public input has occurred at a point when the budget is already in draft form and close to being finalized.
“One of the great opportunities with this (survey) is people can speak to the budget before it has gone to draft form… Depending on what people say and what direction council gives the final report, there may be a chance the draft budget is shifted by the feedback,” Laing Gahr says.
And it’s just a taste of more to come, Laing Gahr says.
“The city is going to put more emphasis on engaging the public on decisions that affect them,” she says.
The survey closes Friday, Oct. 14 and Laing Gahr is hoping to hit 500 responses by the end of the week.
Every completed survey with a valid email address is automatically entered into a prize draw. Participants could win one of five Vernon Recreation Centre passes or one of 10 gift cards.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.
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