The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 23, 2009

It’s in the mail: Town surveys need for services

Have you opened the large white envelope that arrived in Carlisle mailboxes this week containing the Official Town Needs Survey? Jim Elgin hopes you will. He is leading the team of six who developed the survey.

Elgin spoke recently with the Mosquito about the project and said, “The purpose of the survey is to gain a better understanding of the needs of the citizens of Carlisle. It’s for all citizens, not just senior citizens.” The survey includes questions on residents’ needs for services relating to transportation, housing, healthcare, town government, community activities and socialization.

“We want to ask the question directly, how people perceive their needs to be. We did not talk about how these needs should be met or funded.” He pointed out the survey may gather different information in contrast to a compilation of past Town Meeting votes, where people may vote against a desirable service because of the cost. “For example, the COA van was donated by a citizen after Town Meeting approved a new vehicle for the dog catcher, but disapproved a van for the Council on Aging.”

Town Meeting in 2007 authorized the Council on Aging (COA) to use up to $25,000 from Community Preservation Act funds for a professionally conducted needs assessment of the recreational needs of the town’s seniors. Elgin explained that the scope evolved when the Selectmen were consulted and suggested including all residents if it could be done at no additional cost.

Another change that Elgin estimates will cut costs in half is that “qualified people stepped forward,” and a six-member volunteer team is conducting the survey instead of a hired consultant. In addition to Elgin, members of the Town Survey Development Team include John Ballantine, Alan Cameron, Verna Gilbert, Kathy Mull and Camilia Rosca. Elgin notes that Rosca has professional experience in this field and will use computer software to help analyze the returns and look for correlations among the data.

The estimated expenses of $12,500 will be spent mostly on printing and postage, Elgin said. The surveys will be machine-read; additionally a person has been hired to help with data entry and to visually verify that the surveys are filled out properly, i.e. without multiple blackened circles on a single question, for instance.

Preparations took time

Why did it take over a year to prepare the survey? One reason was that the committee held many meetings to refine and simplify the survey questions. But prior to that, Elgin explained, they waited for the completion of a related project, a COA-funded survey of senior services in ten towns in the suburban area that are similar to Carlisle in size and demographics. “From that survey we learned a lot about how those towns are meeting the needs of their seniors and how those needs vary from town to town.” For example, transportation needs vary, depending on other public transportation options, or whether private taxi companies are readily available. Lacking these, Carlisle’s COA runs a van that helps meet the transportation needs of seniors and disabled citizens.

Survey analysis

Elgin stressed that, while demographic data is being collected (e.g. age, years in town, household size), the surveys will be anonymous at all steps of the process. “An important part of this is we’re not keeping track of names at all. It’s being distributed by bulk mail, so there isn’t even an address on the envelope.”

Results, Elgin explained, will be used by “the Board of Selectmen initially, and other town departments that are planning for the future, either long or short-range planning.” Copies of the reports will be available at Gleason Library. The target date for publishing preliminary results is early April. The committee expects that this may spark new ideas and requests for additional analysis of the data. Elgin expects the committee to complete its role by the end of April.

Elgin stressed, “It’s important for people to fill out the survey and return it, because ... the more people respond, the more creditable and useful the results.” Additional copies of the survey may be obtained at Town Hall. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito