Iowa City City Council to get budget aid

BY AMANDA McCLURE | APRIL 01, 2009 7:40 AM

The Iowa City City Council will conduct a telephone survey across the city to receive more community input on their budget-setting decisions.

The council previously voted to place city projects and services in a prioritization process to determine the importance of each project in the budget. However, at their Tuesday meeting, councilors decided community feedback would give broader results.

“I like the idea of using objective criteria like a survey,” Councilor Amy Correia said. “It’s a way to start our budget dialogue based on feedback that can lead a conversation rather than opinions.”

City Manager Michael Lombardo determined a public poll across Iowa City will give the council a better idea of what services the city needs to fund. The council would model its survey on those in such cities as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

“We’re trying to look for ways we can adapt methods from other cities,” Lombardo said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but organizing the budget is going to be a long and difficult challenge no matter how we do it.”

The council will pay a firm an estimated $15,000 to conduct a telephone survey of at least 700 households across the city, asking specific questions about services and facilities.

From there, Lombardo said the council will have a better understanding of what community members think is important and can use the information during their budget-setting.

“I want public input, but I don’t want the public to make this decision for me,” Councilor Connie Champion said. “It’s my responsibility to decide what’s right for the city.”

Despite a majority consensus to perform the city-wide survey, Councilor Matt Hayek had doubts regarding the council’s ability to fund an outside company.

“I would like to think that as elected individuals, the seven of us are capable of coming up with a prioritized budget list,” he said. “I understand the value in talking with outside sources; the problem is how to apply those services to our current funding and program budgets.”

The councilors will not provide the survey questions; instead, the hired firm will develop questions based on subjects they provide. Lombardo assured this will bring more objectivity to the survey.
The telephone survey will ask community members about their satisfaction with the city, preferences for services, and support for public safety.

The project will also be a way for the council to make a decision on the fourth fire station.
Lombardo said money from the federal stimulus package may be available for fire services — and would be able to fund the construction as well as staff the station for a year — but said it was too early to rely on the money.

A survey firm could be hired within the week and start the 40-day project as soon as possible. Councilors said they will know more at their April 13 meeting.

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