WALNUT CREEK -- Residents whose phones didn't ring last week with a call from a pollster asking about the state of the city -- and even those who got that call -- have a chance to weigh in on the city's financial woes and services.
Walnut Creek is using the "Open Town Hall" section of its website for a survey to gather opinions from residents about city services, from road maintenance to open space.
"We are still trying to measure the community's awareness of the city's fiscal challenges and at the same time how the community prioritizes city services," said Matt Huffaker, special assistant to the city manager.
The survey will ask residents if one city service is a higher priority than another, he said. As of Wednesday morning, around 115 people had participated in Open Town Hall on this topic, and city leaders are encouraging more residents to do so. The survey will close on Monday.
City leaders have said this polling is necessary because soon Walnut Creek will no longer be able to afford everything currently provided. Multimillion dollar deficits are projected in Walnut Creek budgets for the next several years. Things such as library hours, facility maintenance and pools are all services at potential risk.
Discussion already posted in the Open Town Hall forum centers around the need to maintain library hours, and the need for the county library to fund itself completely. Public safety and roads seem to be users' top priorities so far; some say new taxes aren't necessary to retain services at the current levels, while others say they are willing to pay more.
Earlier this summer, the City Council agreed to pay EMC Research $20,000 to complete the telephone polling of 400 residents, which was completed last week.
Called by a pollster, resident Mark Clar said many of the questions seemed generic, asking whether he likes city services and if he would be willing to pay more for them through taxes or fees.
"I felt like I knew where this is going," he said -- to determine support for a new tax measure, he said.
The City Council has not publicly decided any measure is necessary, but it recently completed a fiscal analysis of many city services. No changes have been made that would result in major cost savings.
At least one councilman, Justin Wedel, has been outspoken in his opposition to the polling. In July, he said the polls seemed geared toward giving answers city leaders already have -- that residents like these city services and don't want them to go away.
Clar pointed out that the questions seemed similar to the National Citizens Survey done last year.
Huffaker said that survey is geared toward capturing the community's satisfaction with city's services and quality of life compared to the open town hall survey which tries to get at the community's service priorities.
Much of this information gathered from the polling will be used in preparation for the 2014-16 budget.
The results of both the online and phone surveys will be released to the public and to the City Council in October. To participate, go to www.walnut-creek.org/opentownhall
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.