Juneau Assembly mulls LoWV survey

A Juneau Assembly subcommittee will meet with a researcher tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss a proposed League of Women Voters survey of residents’ city budget priorities.

With the city facing a projected 7.5-million dollar shortfall over the next two years, the Assembly is looking for some community guidance as it prepares to make difficult spending decisions.

In the past, the League of Women Voters survey was done telephonically. But this year – citing the inability to reach people on cell phones – the organization is proposing a mail-out survey to roughly 17-thousand addresses in the Capital City. The League is asking the city to cover the cost of the mailer – about 10-thousand dollars.

At last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl questioned Deputy City Manager Kim Kiefer on the survey’s methodology. Kiefer said from her discussions with the League, they would not be able to prevent people from filling out more than one.

“We won’t be able to keep people from stuffing the ballot box with their comments,” Kiefer admitted.

Kiehl said, “That’s one of my great concerns. The other would be that mail-out surveys tend to have a significant selection bias in who returns them.”

But the League’s Marianne Mills says a mail-out survey might make it easier to get a more accurate picture of residents’ priorities.

“We’ll have a much larger sample. And perhaps more representative,” said Mills. “Because the phone has gotten so skewed over the years in terms of we used to do it by prefix. Like, we knew every 364 was in Douglas. Well that’s changed, because when people move now they can take their phone prefix with them to the valley.”

Mills invited assembly members to meet with Steve Hamilton – a retired University of Alaska Southeast professor who’s volunteered to help the League with the survey. A subcommittee made up of Kiehl, Karen Crane, and Carlton Smith will meet with Hamilton tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11 a.m. at the Juneau Airport’s Juneau Room.

The Committee of the Whole voted to recommend the full Assembly approve the survey at its regular meeting next Monday. Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker was the only no vote. He cited concerns that the League’s survey results wouldn’t be available until April. He also wanted staff to give the assembly an estimate of what it would cost to have the research firm McDowell Group do the survey.

In 2009, when the city was facing a similar budget shortfall, the Assembly opted not to do the League of Women Voters survey.