What it costs to find out what voters think about taxing issues
The city of Glenwood Springs recently spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to learn about the taxpayers themselves — particularly how registered voters feel about a number of pressing, local issues that may or may not appear on the ballot this November or next spring.
According to Glenwood Springs’ Chief Operating Officer Steve Boyd, the poll cost $16,000 and was funded from non-departmental expenses in the general fund. FrederickPolls, located in Arlington, Virginia — 1,610.61 miles from the steps of Glenwood Springs City Hall — was contracted to conduct the survey.
When asked why FrederickPolls was used and not a Colorado polling firm, and whether or not it was for the simple fact they offered the best deal, Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa stated, “The city hired FrederickPolls for the A&I survey and was pleased with their performance.”
That performance tapped into the minds of 225 city residents and 75 from its rural unincorporated area, with two caveats — the questionnaire instructs the pollsters, calling on behalf of FrederickPolls, that the “respondent must be registered to vote — terminate all others,” as well as the “respondent must be very or somewhat likely to vote — terminate all others.”
Some of the questions — for example, “First of all, how would you rate the overall quality of life in the Glenwood Springs area: excellent, good, not so good, or poor?” — may sound rudimentary. As the survey progresses, so does its specifics, as it hones in on an expiring property tax which funds services provided by emergency personnel such as firefighters and EMS paramedics, as well as the upkeep of fire stations and life-saving equipment.
“I don’t want to spend 16 grand on a poll to reconcile differences between the seven of us. … This was different though,” Glenwood Springs City Councilman Jonathan Godes said.
“The problem is that every year those [emergency services] costs have increased, that tax has stayed flat as a percentage,” Godes explained. “We killed the reserves during the recession when home prices plummeted, then property taxes plummeted and the city has to backfill. …
“We don’t have a mechanism to backfill the disproportionate cost increase that the fire district has had over the last 20 years.”
Obviously, the city must find a way to fund its first responders and emergency personnel; however, what dollar amount the public would support was the major question, and ultimately its answer will, in all likelihood, appear as the ballot question this November or during the regular municipal election cycle next April.
According to the poll’s results, voters overwhelmingly supported renewing the expiring property taxes to fund the in-city and rural district fire and ambulance services.
However, the potential margin of victory for such a ballot question dropped 25 percent when the word “increased” was tacked on with additional measures.
“In my experience, the actual wording of the ballot is very important to determining outcome. Words matter. Content matters,” FrederickPolls owner Keith Frederick said. “Thus, we often ask a, ‘If you knew…’ follow-up question to determine if additional information would change a voter’s mind.”
According to Figueroa, City Council, based upon the advice of legal counsel and staff, ultimately will author the specific wording of questions voters will either cast their ballots in favor of or against.
While obviously common in large cities and in politics, Frederick told the Post Independent, “Many smaller communities and taxing districts poll, yes. I have conducted over 50 such polls in Colorado since the early 2000s. Some larger ones do not. My best answer, the smart ones do.”
Recently, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority also conducted two separate polls to gauge voter support for a property tax question that may appear on the November ballot. The first of those polls carried with it a $26,500 price tag, and the second checked out at $24,400 as part of its Destination 2040 planning effort.