Public officials often have to make the tough, and sometimes unpopular, budgetary decisions that governing requires with public opinion apparent only in hindsight. So the resident survey, presented at Tuesday night’s work session and released to the public Wednesday, might be a helpful guide for which pennies to pinch this year.
The borough sent out about ten thousand surveys in August, and after delays caused by Hurricane Sandy, the borough tabulated 2,240 responses. Officials were pleased with the response rate. The full results can be viewed at www.fairlawn.org.
The majority of respondents were age 55 or older, and 73% currently have no children at home. The proportion of older residents initially drew concerns that the results would be skewed against many of the services typically used more by younger families, and thwart attempts to accurately gauge the way residents’ prioritize borough services.
But in the end, although a majority of the respondents reported never using facilities like the pool or parks, majorities also indicated their support for them. “There were a lot of people who outright said: My children are grown but when they were young we used the pool, and we used the facilities, and we do support them,” Borough Manager Tom Metzler told the Council.
While the vast majority had positive opinions about living in Fair Lawn, it’s no surprise that a major gripe was taxes. Only 12% supported raising property taxes, but a mere 34% were supportive of general service reductions to maintain current rates. The borough's hope was that questions about specific services would point to where people were comfortable with reductions.
“We’re fighting to maintain our way of life,” Mayor John Cosgrove told Patch after the results became public. “We don’t want to raise taxes, and we’re going to try to maintain our services by being creative.”
Residents were overwhelmingly supportive of maintaining current service levels at the library, emergency services, and public works. But one area where they indicated support was reduced garbage collection and more limited hours at the recycling center. Cosgrove said that may give the Council some practical guidance moving forward.
“That’s exactly what the survey was intended to do,” he said. “It gives us an idea that that’s one of the things that people may be willing to sacrifice to keep the other services they like.”
The survey also indicated poor performance by the Borough in reaching residents on social media and through its website, something that Cosgrove said has been a focus of improvement even before the surveys were sent.
There are not yet any solid plans to enact policy from the results of the survey, but Cosgrove is hopeful that it will be a starting point in discussions on how to trim spending.
“It’s not written in stone that that’s everything we would do, but I think it’s given us a nice guide as to how some of our residents feel.”