Survey provides insights for support of proposed Baldwin City government building projects

Baldwin City government Enlarge photo

October 6, 2015

Baldwin City residents are evenly split in their support for a city building plan that would include four proposed capital improvement projects discussed extensively in the past year, a survey of registered voters conducted this summer found.

Brad Senden of The Center for Community Opinion shared with the Baldwin City Council the results of the survey Monday. The telephone survey, which was conducted from Aug. 10 to Aug. 26, contacted 200 Baldwin City registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus of 6.8 percent.

The survey asked the voters of their overall support for four facility upgrades included on the updated capital improvement project list the City Council approved in April — a new police station, new public works facility, City Hall upgrades and addition of a theater at the Lumberyard Arts Center — but never directly asked respondents of their support for individual projects or how that would rank them in terms of need.

When asked if they would favor or oppose a proposal that would increase taxes to build the four facilities, 42 percent of respondents said they would, 48 percent said wouldn’t and 9.5 were undecided. The difference was within the survey’s margin of error, Senden said.

The survey questioners then gave respondents information regarding the proposed projects to find how that swayed their opinion. The information did produce additional support for a building program including all four projects, with 48 percent favoring such a program after the additional information was shared, 49.5 percent opposed and 6.5 percent undecided.

Building the most support for the four projects was additional information shared about a new public works facility. When told the facility would consolidate public works’ multiple operational sites at one facility, 58 percent of respondents said they were more likely to support the building program. Information that a new police station would improve safety and security grew support for the overall building program a near identical 57.5 percent. Three pieces of information about the Lumberyard project — that the theater would improve the downtown economy, that it would improve access to the arts for downtown visitors and that it would complete the arts centers’ planned third phase — all failed to increase support for the building program by more than 50 percent.

The respondents were then queried about how much they would be willing to pay for the projects and how the city should fund them. A solid majority of 59.9 percent indicated they would support the projects at the cost of $67 in additional taxes on themselves, but that support declined sharply to 46.5 present when the annual cost increased to $96. Support shrank to 41 percent at an annual cost of $103 and 35.5 percent at the cost of $137 per year.

Thirty-five percent of survey respondents favored a sales tax as a way to pay for the project, while 31.5 percent favored a combination of sales and property taxes. Only 14 percent favored property tax as the sole source of debt retirement and 17.5 percent didn’t favor any new taxes.

As of the end of September, the city’s quarter-cent quality of life sales tax has produced just more than $75,000 in revenue for the city this year, and 1 mill of property tax is projected to produce about $29,000 in 2016 revenue.

A reminder that a voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax paid for the library expansion and improvements to city parks only slightly improved support for the sales tax only option or the combination sales tax/property tax option. However, information that the overall sales tax rate in Baldwin City of 8.4 percent was lower than those of its neighbors and it could be raised to those levels to pay for the projects increased support of the sales-tax-only option to 44 percent.

In what Senden said was a positive finding should the city put some kind of building program before the public, the survey found support for the projects was greater among very active and active voters than those who went to the polls less often.

Finally, the respondents were asked their opinion of a community center not included on the latest CIP update but discussed last spring during that CIP’s annual review. When the respondents were asked if they would support adding a “generic” community center to the city’s construction or renovation plans, 14.5 percent said they would “strongly support” its inclusion and 40 percent say they favored its addition. Twenty-five percent opposed the community center’s addition, and 16 percent were strongly opposed. Fifty-five percent said they were would be more likely to support a city building program that included a community center, while 36 percent said its inclusion would make them less likely to support such a building program.

Mayor Marilyn Pearse said Senden’s presentation gave her more confidence the city could gain citizen support for building proposals. The mayor said the survey indicated the city would have to build support for the proposals, but she said more compelling arguments could be made than those presented to respondents in the survey.

The survey suggested the City Council needed more information, especially concerning a community center, Pearse said. The cost of such a facility, pegged very roughly at between $1.1 million to $4 million during discussions last spring, would be well beyond the $67-a-year cost the respondents indicated they would support, she said. The community center would have to be built by a taxing entity encompassing the Baldwin school district or an agency like the YMCA.

Councilwoman Christi Darnell said she found the survey inconclusive because so many key questions fell within the margin of error. It suffered, she said, because the council had no input into crafting questions or statements in support for projects.

It was also lacking specifics on a community center, which she supports, Darnell said. That project would have to be built as a partnership involving the city, school district and Baker University, she said.

Darnell suggested the council’s next step in the CIP process would be to craft a facilities plan.

Councilwoman Kathy Gerstner said she found survey information on what level of taxation and form of taxation voters would support helpful. She, too, said crafting a facilities plan was the logical next step. That should be one of the first things on the council’s plate when a new city administrator starts early next year, she said.

Originally published at: