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Testing the waters

Marshall turns to public survey for topics like the future of the Aquatic Center

Photo by Deb Gau In the heat of Wednesday afternoon, kids were lined up for the diving boards at the Marshall Aquatic Center. The city has been discussing updates to the Aquatic Center as well as other possible projects, and they plan to conduct a phone survey to hear public feedback.

MARSHALL — Sometime this year, Marshall residents could find themselves being called by a survey-taker — but they shouldn’t hang up. The survey is part of a plan by the city of Marshall to hear their opinions about future projects.

“We feel it’s important to test, or get some feedback from the community on what would be some viable options to fund not only the Aquatic Center, but would there be other considerations for potential projects?” said Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson.

“We would want to consider exploring other projects in addition to the Aquatic Center, if there was support for it.”

At Tuesday’s Marshall City Council meeting, the council approved a proposal by consulting firm Baker Tilly to conduct a phone survey of randomly-selected Marshall residents. While Baker Tilly representatives said they couldn’t say in advance exactly what kind of questions would be in the survey, Marshall city staff said the survey will help them answer some important questions as Marshall looks at projects like making much-needed updates to its Aquatic Center.

“The discussion was really about getting good input from the public, and to do that in a way that was professional and scientific so we knew that we were getting good data,” said Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes.

Hanson said the idea of conducting a public survey came out of a May 19 work session on the future of the Marshall Aquatic Center, as well as other parks and recreation projects and future needs in the city. Hanson said the work session also covered possible financing options to update the Aquatic Center, which could include different types of bonds, the city property tax levy, or a local sales tax.

If the city pursues the sales tax option, “We would want to have public support before we go to our legislators,” Hanson said. That was one important reason to conduct a survey on financing options.

“We did seek a proposal from two firms,” Hanson said. After review, city staff were recommending Baker Tilly’s proposal because of their methodology, she said. The proposal would have a cost of $21,500.

Matt Stark of Baker Tilly said the proposed survey would take around 15 minutes to complete. Survey respondents would be randomly selected to be representative of Marshall’s demographics.

“As a result of that, even though we might only talk to 300 people, we can have a pretty high level of confidence we are getting an accurate picture of people’s feelings,” Stark said.

“The formulation of the questions, they are very careful about not leading the respondent to answer in a certain way,” Hanson said. Stark said Baker Tilly wouldn’t be able to share details on the survey questions or notify respondents about the survey in advance, to avoid influencing people’s answers.

Council members said they did have concerns about conducting the survey through cold calls.

“Speaking for myself, if I see it’s a toll-free call … there’s a good chance that phone is not going to get answered,” said council member John DeCramer.

“I too, if I see an 800 number on my landline … 99% of the time I’m not going to answer it,” said council member Russ Labat. “If we proceed with this, I would encourage that the city or someone market or advertise somehow that this survey will be conducted.”

“It can be a challenge sometimes. If it’s an unrecognized number, we’ll have to call a lot of households to find enough to participate,” Stark said. “That being said, we do oftentimes work with a city if we want to give people a heads-up that this is coming.”

A motion to approve Baker Tilly’s proposal for a survey passed 6-1, with Labat casting the dissenting vote.

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