Response to Community Engagement Survey 001
I’d like to first express my gratitude to everybody who took the time to submit a response to the first Community Engagement Survey, Survey 001; Posted May 9, 2018. And, a special “thank you” to the few folks who engaged with me more deeply to discuss some of these issues, whether by email or on social media.
As promised, here is a summary of the responses, with my commentary. It is important to note that with only 25 responses, the sample size is not large enough to make any conclusions about the town as a whole. These surveys are designed to facilitate discussion, rather than direct policy.
Why People Live in Barrington
I anticipated that the primary thing bringing folks to Barrington, or keeping them here, would be our school system and its reputation. This proved to be true for 80% of respondents (20 of 25). Those who have been in Barrington the least time actually had the smallest representation of people here for school, at 40%. This could imply that the reputation of Barrington does not carry the same weight it once did, that Barrington is attractive for additional new reasons, or may simply be due to the small scale of the survey itself.
The second and third most common reasons for folks living in Barrington were proximity to the bay (56%) and the small town vibe (48%). I believe these are both things that can be enhanced through some program ideas I hope to work on with our Parks & Recreation Commission. We can create opportunities to come together as a community and highlight different groups within Barrington by holding cultural events on the waterfront and in our parks.
The school budget represents nearly 70% of total town expenses, but people tended to select three or four reasons for being in Barrington. It is important to set town initiatives that recognize and enhance Barrington’s multi-dimensional appeal.
Common Feedback About My Current Messaging
The survey responses were received over six weeks, from May 11 to June 23. During that time, I have been adding content to my website and posts to my social media accounts (I even added a new social media account; thanks to the person who suggested Instagram!). So early responses and late responses don’t truly compare apples to apples. That said, the tone, directionality and philosophy behind the content has been consistent throughout the building process.
Most responses in this category were positive but expressed a desire to learn more about me and my ideas. This decreased over time, as I added more content. I will continue to add more content that relates both to my socio-political beliefs, ideas for new ways the town can operate, and also my responses to emergent situations in the community.
There were also a few negative expressions of the same desire to learn more about me. The following quote from a respondent well encapsulates those with a negative tone to the lack of specifics currently (at the time) expressed on jacobbrier.com:
I’m not finding any actual viewpoints or political stances on issues. Even this survey seems like a way to see what most people want first before sticking your neck out to state what you specifically want to accomplish. - Barrington Resident
I read this response as critical of a tactic that I believe is very important, but I agree with the content of it; particularly the second sentence. I believe some political opinions are expressed on my platform page and have been from the beginning. But even there, they aren’t expressed completely. There is a reason for that.
I want to bring to the Town Council a methodology used to build effective software products (among many other business and social applications), called Lean Startup. Through this process, new initiatives, policies, etc., would start small, be measured early, often and with high fidelity, and we would learn what is and isn’t working, then start over with that new information. My survey isn’t about avoiding sticking my neck out, it’s about ensuring that I am talking to people about the things that they want to know about.
People in leadership are often effective at rallying folks around the ideas important to the leader, and having them work to solve the related problems. I want to serve on our Town Council so that I can apply my problem solving skills and collaborative nature to the problems that our town wants and needs solved. I do have a few specific ideas that I think will help our town, and I’ve begun sharing more of those. My goal is to gain support for my ability to measure, learn, and build new ideas. Then, continuing that loop to ensure those ideas move us all forward, together.
The Issues of Most Importance to Barrington Residents
I heard a lot more criticism of the school system than I expected. This was surprising to me, as I had heard only positive things about the Barrington School Department my whole life. I understand this is a priority for people, and I would expect to work closely with my counterparts on the School Committee, should I earn the seat on Town Council. That said, it is important to keep in mind the school policies and budget are set by the School Committee which is a separate elected body. My efforts in this area will be to create more opportunity for innovative or newly learned ways to educate and support the growth of our children, without additional burden on the taxpayers.
I will share my survey feedback with the folks on the school committee, though I suspect they will have been aware of these concerns being expressed by parents and other residents.
Reining in property tax increases is top of mind for most respondents. As this is an area important to me, and one I expected would be a common issue to be discussed during the campaign, I’ve given it a lot of thought. Here are a few areas I’d like to work on:
I want to incentivize Barrington residents to start or grow a small business and work with existing businesses to determine how Barrington can better serve their needs. This is good from a fiscal standpoint, and also addresses desires indicated in the survey to have more opportunities for local shopping.
As new stores fill the vacancies at the Barrington Shopping Center, or new merchants open up in the surrounding areas and throughout town, the value of those properties increases because of the revenue generated there. This is different from home values increasing, since most homeowners aren’t selling their home each year.
A large portion of these taxes may also be paid by non-Barrington residents. The combination of those two aspects help decrease the tax burden on residents.
I want to leverage our existing resources to generate revenue. This can be accomplished by untaxed land transitioning to private ownership, the development of the old Zion Bible College to a profitable enterprise or even a private recreation area.
This is a topic to which I intend to direct more attention in the coming weeks. As more specific details are put together, I will add them to my website.
Budget Details and Transparency
I will make the budgeting process more accessible for the community. It is important to note that the Committee on Allocations holds public meetings nearly year-round as they prepare the budget. This is a very open and transparent process. I found it to be very informative to sit in and listen to how the committee approaches their work, from the expense side. Not everybody is able to attend the meetings and the posted minutes (like most all town information) are not delivered in a user-friendly way, limiting awareness.
In addition to improving access for people, I would like to add an initiative to focus on revenue opportunities, so that we can decrease the portion of expenses that must be paid by existing residential property taxes. This can include fees for service, fines, permits, and most importantly, grants from private foundations, the state or federal agencies.
I would like the output of this group, along with the output from the existing COA to be presented to the town more broadly than at a budget hearing and the Financial Town Meeting. I believe an easier way to access this information online or in print, and looking at the top and bottom halves of an Income Statement will create a more informed and ultimately better served public.
Enhancing our Community
The response of “Small Town Vibe” was one of the top responses for what brought people to Barrington. It means something different for many people, though. I found that there were a variety of issues and ideas shared in the survey that fall into what I see as this overall category encompassing issues around how we use our parks and public spaces and behave as members of a shared community.
A concern several people expressed was about safety of children traveling to school, whether by foot or by bike. That concern, coupled with folks wanting more bike lanes and sidewalks create a clear opportunity for Barrington to improve access in town center and in the main routes to our schools.
Projects such as these are expensive, and in order to make the improvements we’d like made, the money to fund them will need to come from somewhere; whether eliminating another budgeted area or increasing revenue from somewhere other than taxes. I think this could be an ideal project for a public works grant or philanthropy.
The first summer we lived in Barrington, we attended a few of the free concerts by the beach. It made our family so delighted with our decision to move here and really excited about living here. I look forward to finding more ways to increase those opportunities, because as we come together for pleasant, community-building events like those, it helps remind us that we’re all here together. And together, we can solve our problems.
Two Sides to Every Coin
I received feedback from people on opposite ends of the political spectrum who both feel that our town’s agenda is being driven primarily by the efforts of a vocal minority, on the opposite side.
I take two things from this (recognizing this is a very small sample), since the experiences are mutually exclusive: A) the town is most likely being run moderately, from a political perspective; and B) that the decision-making process is not received widely enough or with significant detail. I plan to share my personal reasons for each vote. And for controversial issues, I will outwardly communicate my thinking and rationale as we move toward a vote/resolution. I will also be holding open “office hours” periodically. During these times I will be in a public spot in town and welcome anybody to join me to discuss their concerns, my activities as a Town Council member and anything else they’d like.
Until Next Time
Thanks again, to those who took the survey, and those who took the time to read this “summary” response. As soon as I update the questions, I’ll post the new survey link. In the meantime, if you haven’t already taken Survey 001, I encourage you to submit some responses, especially if you have feedback relating or in contrast to this summary; I want to hear from you!