2016-01-29 / Community

Kennebunk plans resident survey

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — When local property owners get the invoice for the second installment of their annual tax bill, it will contain a little something extra – a note with a link to an online survey selectmen are conducting to help drive their upcoming strategic visioning process.

Selectmen agreed at their Jan. 12 meeting to include the notice in the tax bill. According to Finance Director Joel Downs, he will be sending, at most, about 6,000 bills, and it costs 9 cents per sheet for additional enclosures – or, at most, about $540 to send the notice.

Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said notice of the survey will also go out to the public via email, posting on the local public access TV channel, and in the local press.

“I think you’re going to see a good turnout on this, because we are going to get it out on several different levels,” Tibbetts said.

Selectman Ed Karytko expressed concern that a good turnout might amount to no more than 200 completed surveys, but Selectman Christopher Cluff said in a town the size of Kennebunk, that would be enough to help inform what selectmen do in the future.

“The pollsters will tell you they can predict who the next president will be with just 1,000 people,” he said.

Unlike that type of polling, the selectmen’s “Goal Setting Survey” will not be a scientific survey, due to the lack of a random sample.

Because respondents will get to self-select whether to respond, the likelihood is that those who do respond will be particularly motivated to so do – because they are either very happy, or very upset with the town – potentially skewing results.

The term, SLOP (an acronym for Self-selected Listener Opinion Polls) was coined to describe survey bias by Norman Bradburn, director of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Bradburn invented the term in the pre-Internet era to describe call-in surveys conducted by talk-radio programs, which he noted tended to attract a non-representative slice of the general population.

“As a result, SLOP surveys litter misinformation and confusion across serious policy and political debates, virtually wherever and whenever they are used,” he said, as quoted in a 1992 Richard Morin column in the Sacramento Bee, “Call-in polls: Pseudo-science debases journalism.”

In October, selectmen agreed to pay Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, New Hampshire, $2,800 plus mileage reimbursement for help in crafting a strategic plan “to secure perspectives on the viability and effectiveness of current municipal operations and secure input regarding the primary challenges faced by the community over the next five to seven years.”

Funding for the contract came from the selectmen’s contingency account.

A draft of the survey is available on the town website, as part of the agenda packet for the Jan. 12 board meeting.

Selectmen are expected to conduct a half-day strategic planning session on a Saturday in March.

Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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