To take the Palm Coast citizens’ survey, go here.
Since 2002, the Palm Coast City Council has relied on an annual, not quite scientific survey conducted by mail by a surveying company to gauge residents’ opinions on the “livability” of Palm Coast. The survey has generally relied on a small sample of responses (455 last time), and it’s cost the city roughly $13,000.
This year council members agreed to do something different. The survey would be mostly electronic, it’d be done in-house, it would be disseminated by email to thousands of residents, and thousands more would be invited to fill it out through websites, Facebook accounts and the like. The survey would also put a bit more emphasis on giving respondents a voice—giving them a chance to write out some responses, if they feel so inclined.
The Survey Monkey-enabled surveys went out just after mid-February, and so far the response has been significant, with 3,310 responses just to the online version. Council member Nick Klufas cheered the response rate at a council workshop Tuesday, as did most council members in separate interviews.
“With us engaging the community in different ways by doing it ourselves is a good thing,” Mayor Milissa Holland said. “Before it was done as a mailing and was very targeted. Because we’re being aggressive with our social media and having it in our kiosks in the city, everyone that walks in, on our website, we’re allowing hopefully more input from our residents.”
The responses are anonymous, although by also relying on a list of voter-registration records, where some people choose to include their email address (Klufas said there are 9,000 such names), the city obviously knows to whom it’s emailing the survey. If from that point the survey is taken online, the respondent remains anonymous. But respondents certainly can also make themselves known is they so choose.
Questions include ratings of life in the city and nearly a dozen questions related to parks and recreation, with links along the way to the city’s web pages on parks and amenities; a speculative question about the “private sector economic health of Palm Coast” (the ratings are limited to poor, fair, good, excellent) and a more specific question about work and shopping opportunities; several questions about phone service and quality (and wi-fi service); road and traffic conditions, with a particular emphasis on traffic signals; a question about safety; queries about the importance of city services and for what services residents would be willing to pay additional taxes. The final page of the survey, which takes about 10 or 15 minutes to complete, is demographic information about the survey-taker.
As always, respondents’ answers, when they add details, at times show the distance between reality and residents’ misperceptions. For example, when asked “What types of recreational programs would you like offered in Palm Coast,” one respondent—based on answers provided by the city upon request—cited “Aquatics,” “Classes and Lectures,” and said “Many offerings are not suited for working adults,” even though aquatics are at least to some extent offered at the city’s and the county’s pools (in the city), and the city has a running “lunch ‘n learn” series. Another responded: “Support the bridge club.” But the bridge club, a private entity, is among the better-attended clubs in the city and scarcely needs public subsidies.
Another respondent wrote: “I’d like to see a YMCA with [an] aquatic facility available in Palm Coast for swimmers (closest is Ormond). Also, many citizens claim there is nothing to do – more businesses offering activities for families to have fun around town rather than having to travel to other cities (Daytona just added two trampoline sports complexes!).” The school board was in talks to bring a YMCA to the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club a year and a half ago, but those talks collapsed.
“If you expect to leave Palm Coast, what would be the reason?” One responded answered, stunningly: “Seek lower property tax,” even though Palm Coast has remained at the lower end of the scale, at least with regards to property taxes, for cities of its size (that’s not including the cost of other city services that may seem like taxes but strictly speaking aren’t, such as the city’s utilities, garbage collection and stormwater services).
“Call me crazy. I felt safer with the red-light cameras,” one respondent wrote.
“Palm Coast doesn’t have jobs that pay in the 55 to 80k range,” one respondent said. “[Too] many retail stores and fast food places. My family & I would love to see larger manufacturing companies come in on US1.”
Online surveys have their pitfalls, too, revealing—like websites’ comment sections—the seamier, more vulgar side of the local culture. To the question: “If you expect to leave Palm Coast, what would be the reason?” Someone answered by claiming there were “not enough” women, using a more derogatory term. Another wanted to see “an event for Cougars.”
Others have a sense of humor: “Call me crazy. I felt safer with the red-light cameras. Belle Terre Drivers are going faster. I am seeing much more iffy behavior on the roads than I used to.”
The surveys can be filled out from anywhere—including by Russian hackers—and as many times as a participant may choose to fill them out, from various platforms.
The City is conducting the survey as part of its annual Strategic Action Planning process, a city release stated in February. The feedback received from residents is presented to the Palm Coast City Council and is used for strategic planning and to help City leaders set priorities for the next fiscal year.
The council is aware that a survey that relies heavily on online responses may skew a certain way, though the gap between computer use and age has been narrowing steadily (the exception is older black Americans, among whom less than 50 percent were online in a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center).
For council member Heidi Shipley, asking the sort of revealing questions that point to residents’ concern is as important as getting a sense of what’s working. “I want to know where the problems are,” Shipley said. “Or just ideas—sometimes people have ideas we haven’t thought of, even with Palm Habor Golf Course. I’m hoping to get the not-so usual comments.”
Council member Steven Nobile emphasized the business climate during discussions about the survey, but as a way of spurring the council to action. “:My problem with the survey is always this,” he said, referring to the previous years’ editions. “I go back to the surveys for the last 13, 14 years, and the number one or number two issue every year are jobs and job opportunity and all that, and the rating on how well we’re doing is the sixth or tenth percentile, and for the last 14 years we haven’t done anything,” by which he meant “we haven’t been initiating anything,” he said. He is also hoping to get a more precise idea of what residents want, younger residents especially, from their city, in order to stay in the city—or in order for the city to find ways to “sustain a younger group of people.”
The survey is live through March 5, and can be taken here.