Weekly comments from Dale Martin – Citizen Survey

By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
March 18, 2022

City Manager Dale Martin

The City is preparing another iteration of the National Community Survey (NCS). Previously called the National Citizen Survey, the City conducted the survey in 2017 and 2019. The results of both surveys are available for review on the City’s website: (www.fbfl.us/DocumentCenter/Index/1918).

The previous surveys randomly selected postal addresses within the City to receive copies of the survey. Additional mailings to the selected addresses reminded participants to complete the survey. Included in the final results of each survey are technical appendices reviewing the reliability, validity, and confidence of the survey methodology as well as illustrating the addresses selected for survey participation.

In 2017, 1,500 surveys were originally distributed, but four percent were returned as undeliverable or a vacant unit. Of the remaining 1,326 surveys delivered, 493 were completed and returned, representing a response rate of 38%. In 2019, the City nearly doubled the number of original surveys to be distributed (2,900), but the response rate was consistent with the 2017 response rate: 39% (1,055 completed out of 2,680 successfully distributed).

Since the NCS offers an extensive series of standard questions, the results of the Fernandina Beach surveys can be compared to communities throughout the country. The administrator of the survey is Polco, in conjunction with the National Research Center, the International City/County Managers Association, and the National League of Cities, provides comparisons to other communities as well as trends within the subject community following each survey.

In general, the City fared well based upon the responses in 2017 and 2019 surveys. The most remarkable difference between the two surveys was with regard to City government, development, and the natural environment, all of which scored much lower in 2019 than in 2017. A factor in the lower scores in those categories may possibly be attributed to the timing of the survey: it took place during the height of the contentious resolution of the Amelia Bluffs development.

The City did score most often similarly to the benchmark communities. In some instances the City fared much higher than the benchmark communities and in others, much lower. Most notable were the ratings associated with general community characteristics: overall quality of life, overall image, place to live, neighborhood, place to raise children, place to retire, and overall appearance. All of those categories scored above 82% of respondents rating positively (excellent or good), with four of the categories garnering 90% or higher. Additionally, when compared with benchmark communities, the overall quality of life, the overall image, and as a place to retire scored higher or much higher (both in 2017 and in 2019).

The City also included specific questions apart from the standard questions of the survey. In 2017, the survey queried respondents about potential projects, dedicated tax levies, strategic planning, the Amelia River waterfront, and sources of information. As a side note in light of the recent State legislation related to public notices appearing in print, the 2017 survey indicated that local print media (specifically distinguished from online media) was the most utilized source of information for residents, surpassing the City’s website by 6% (92% versus 86%).

The 2019 survey asked for responses related to paid beach parking (supported by 60% of respondents if not charged to City property owners/renters), a land conservation tax levy (supported by 54% of respondents and subsequently levied), and downtown parking (somewhat evenly divided as to difficulties to find parking).

A key difference for this year’s survey will be the fact that the survey will be conducted entirely online with everyone eligible to respond. No one will be able to claim, “Well, I didn’t get the survey” or “I don’t know anyone who got the survey.” The technology of the survey, however, will be able to segregate City residents from non-City residents through voter registration records. To complete the survey, participants will be required to provide their name and address, which will then be matched with voter registration records to confirm City residency. All responses (City and non-City) will be tabulated, but it will be possible to discern the responses between the two populations. Since the survey will be administered entirely by a third-party, the responses attributable to specific participants will not be available.

Through Polco, the City also has the opportunity to conduct smaller directed surveys for topics of specific interest. City staff will work with the City Commission to prepare any such additional surveys following the completion of the principal NCS.

The input of residents is critical, especially when compiled through a more scientific method than other popular forums. You can expect the survey to be available for completion in April. Thank you in advance for participating.

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DAVID LOTT(@dave-l)
1 year ago

It will be good to conduct the poll and see how citizen’s views may have changed since the start of the pandemic. Having an online only poll creates a level of bias with expected than lower participation from low income households and seniors comparted to their share of the overall population. Despite the thoughts of some, not everyone has a smartphone or even an internet connection at home. Perhaps some marketing encouragement for those to go the library and use the computers there or perhaps have a “survey day(s)” at City Hall where folks can come in and participate.