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Survey Results Could Help Borough Decide Where to Trim

Feedback from residents, in a survey released Wednesday, might indicate to the Council where Fair Lawn is willing to make sacrifices.

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.”

Walter Weglein January 09, 2013 at 11:52 PM
"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." Ironically, the borough had a much better website until about six months ago, when an improved website was promised. Meanwhile the website has become much worse, with very little information now available. One wonders why, and when improvements can be expected...
Jenne January 11, 2013 at 03:57 AM
Walter, according to the borough's internet saga here on Patch...The website provider went out of business without a trace about 6 months ago (remember when borough internet and website were down for about a week?), leaving the borough with no website, and they apparently had to recreate it from cached copies. That's one of the reasons why the temporary 'new' site isn't very good; hopefully the permanent new one will be better.
Jenne January 11, 2013 at 03:58 AM
I've been a bit sceptical about this survey as I'm not sure all residents actually got surveys, despite what I'm sure were the borough's best efforts.
Deleted because of harassment January 11, 2013 at 05:48 AM
There are scant information about public meetings online, almost no agenda information, and no minutes. If you want to complain to the council, you have to go look at the bulletin board in Borough Hall to find out the meeting schedule for 2013. Inadequate use of social media? This is a return to the horse and buggy era, and should be an embarassment that it has remained like this for months on end.
Walter Weglein January 11, 2013 at 08:03 PM
Unfortunately the survey was distributed just when , as Jenne pointed out, the Internet provider left the borough high and dry...we've been assured a new and better site will go up shortly...
Go Figure January 11, 2013 at 09:24 PM
The Borough website is very poor now. I give it a D-. I understand that there was a problem, but surely there has been enough time to fix and improve it. Recently I went on the police department website too and it also looks grossly outdated. I looked at all the pages to see what was there and found that much of it was outdated and some of the pages by quite a few years. Who oversees the updates on these websites. Maybe we need a volunteer instead of a paid person to oversee. I noted the volunteer websites were well done.
FL-Rez January 12, 2013 at 11:50 AM
I just finished reading the results of the survey. I would like to say the wording of the questions was very interesting and the interruption will be even more interesting. Remember less than 10% of the voters completed the survey.
Walter Weglein January 12, 2013 at 08:29 PM
It was sent to homeowners and renters, of which there are approx. 10,000...

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