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Camden to conduct citizen surveys in January

Posted: September 13, 2012 5:44 p.m.
Updated: September 14, 2012 5:00 a.m.

 

At a late July work session, a majority of Camden City Council members indicated they wanted to hold off on conducting citizen surveys for one year. Those in favor of holding off said they were concerned about how to pay for the surveys and conducting them in close proximity to this November’s general election.

Tuesday, a majority of council still decided to hold off, but this time only until January.

Councilman Walter Long brought up the idea of conducting the surveys sooner than later at council’s Aug. 28 work session two weeks ago. At that time, Long said the surveys -- an idea borne out from a “road trip” to Rock Hill earlier this year -- were “something very important to the community.” Council directed City Manager Kevin Bronson to revisit the idea and see what could be done.

As he did then, Bronson told council Tuesday that the surveys could be paid for out of an amount of money left over from the city’s purchase of new 800 MHz emergency radios. City funds for that purchase came out of what is now called the city’s “project improvement fund.” That fund, previously known as a “capital contingency fund,” originally set aside money specifically for non-budgeted capital improvements, such as facility improvements or equipment purchases.

Councilman Willard Polk objected to the surveys being paid for out of any money from this fund because the work would not be directly related to some kind of capital improvement. Bronson reminded Polk, however, that council voted some time ago to change the name of the fund to make it easier to utilize for any project council deemed appropriate.

However, Bronson did agree with a suggestion Polk made: for council, at its next meeting, to pass a budget amendment reallocating the remaining 800 MHz funds toward the survey project.

At the beginning of his briefing, Bronson said he has determined that the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Public Service and Policy Research (IPSPR) -- which has assisted council with its strategic planning the past two years -- would best conduct the surveys. He said IPSPR could conduct the survey in the original time frame suggested: mid- to late-November, following the general election. That, Bronson said, would allow IPSPR time to collate and analyze the data to present to council during its strategic planning session in late January.

Bronson said there would likely be several types of questions: some statistical in nature, others on quality of life and quality of services.

“There might even be specific questions about the proposed sports complex,” he said. “Some questions would be tailored about health, or our greenways.”

Bronson said IPSPR proposes to target about 400 people to call at random by telephone to administer the survey.

“We plan to launch a campaign alerting citizens that they may receive one of those phone calls and that we hope you’ll participate,” Bronson said.

What appeared to surprise some council members was the number of questions IPSPR proposes to ask in the 15- to 20-minute surveys: 95.

“That’s a lot of questions to ask on the telephone. I would hang up,” Polk said.

Other council members, including councilmen Long and Pat Partin, and Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford, were at least as concerned about the timing of the survey.

“I understand the (post-election) timing, but I wish you could push it further,” Long said, suggesting the January time-frame. “I’m afraid that it won’t be effective right after the election. I’d do it after the first (of January), keep our strategic planning schedule and then use it … we can always use it to revisit our strategic plan later.”

Drakeford also agreed -- as she had said in July -- not to do the surveys so close to the election.

“I just think that two weeks after the election is just the wrong time,” she said. “It’s not going to get us the level of participation we want.”

Polk had suggested waiting an entire budget cycle, essentially a year from now, to begin work on the surveys so that it could be a budgeted item in Fiscal Year 2014. Partin didn’t want to wait that long and wasn’t worried about the number of questions.

“What we’ve heard is on the involvement of the public. People that want to be involved -- people who are interested -- are going to be willing to answer. I think 95 questions is OK, so the only question left to me is the timing,” Partin said.

At that point, Mayor Jeffrey Graham said he thought a majority of council was agreeing on Long’s January suggestion and instructed Bronson to go back to IPSPR to determine if 95 is “really the right number of questions.”

Also during Tuesday’s work session, council instructed staff to move forward on certain recommendations concerning this year’s downtown Christmas decorations. Urban Forester Liz Gilland reported on the recommendations, offered by an ad hoc committee made up of herself; citizens Jack Brantley, Betsy Greenway, Dot Goodwin, Deborah Davis and Linda Goodale; and City Economic Development Director Wade Luther.

Bronson noted that the committee was formed after the city realized it needed to find a new way to handle Christmas decorations as more utility lines are placed underground on DeKalb Street.

Gilland said the committee had two objectives: finding an alternative for DeKalb Street; and to find an alternative way to decorate street light poles along Broad Street, possibly expanding to other light poles on other streets.

“We performed an inventory of the decorative street light poles and found a total of 36 light poles along DeKalb Street between Broad and Mill streets,” Gilland reported. “Nineteen lights are on the north side of DeKalb and 17 on the south side. This does not include the signal light poles and masts at the intersections of Broad and DeKalb, DeKalb and Lyttleton, DeKalb and Fair, and DeKalb and Mill.”

Gilland noted that options are limited now since there will no longer be tall poles to string lights across DeKalb Street. Also, she said decorations attached to light poles must not be taller than 5 to 6 feet and no wider than 2 to 3 feet since they would be close to the street, parking spaces and passing cars and trucks.

Gilland outlined two options for DeKalb Street. Option A would be to hang skyline lights, if possible, as well as sparkling pole mounts -- which she referred to as sparkling silhouettes -- and wrap poles with lit garlands. She said three different decoration designs have been recommended: toy soldier, candle or candy cane.

Option B would also include hanging skyline lights, if possible, as well as side-mounted lit wreaths and wrap poles with garland. Green lit garland could be added to poles to match what is currently being done on Broad Street.

“We thought (the sparkling silhouettes) would fit in with the historic look and provide a day-time decoration,” Gilland said.

For Broad Street, she said the committee is recommending that skyline lights be hung, if possible, but to also add side-mounted lit wreaths and wrap poles with lit garland. As mentioned as one of the DeKalb Street possibilities, the garland would be green to match wreaths. Gilland said more lights could be added to the existing garland.

In response to a question from Drakeford, Gilland said the silhouettes could cost between $350 to $600 each, but that she believed there was enough money in the budget to handle the recommendation. Also in response to Drakeford, she said Dusty Bend was not included in the current recommendations.

There was some question as to how far along on DeKalb Street to place decorations -- as far west as Campbell Street, eastward to Mill Street?

Mayor Graham said it was possible that the city would have to wait until next year before it could expand the decoration area. He also said the silhouettes could “set the look” for downtown Camden during the holidays “for the next 20 years” because those decorations are not cheap.

Long suggested that council may need to redefine were the decoration “corridor” is.

“I want it to look good from one side to the other, but maybe we need to wait until all the undergrounding is done,” he said. “Due to the budget, maybe we need to shorten the corridor on DeKalb Street to go further on Broad Street.”

Graham indicated he wanted both Broad and DeKalb streets to look the same. Bronson said it would be good for staff to know what council’s collective vision would be -- whether they wanted more color or a more subdued, wreath-style look.

“Then we can go back and work with staff … concentrating from the main intersection out,” Bronson said.

Gilland added that members of the committee thought the city could use a different theme on DeKalb Street than on Broad Street, an idea Partin said he liked.

Polk then asked some technical questions, noting that during previous iterations of downtown decorations, electrical load limitations had caused problems.

“Have we increased the load? Has a load calculation been done,” Polk asked, receiving “no” answers to both questions. “I think your committee has done a great job, but I think you need to carry this further.”

In further answering Polk’s questions, Gilland said the city still planned to light the King Haiglar Clock Tower as it has before.

In the end, council appeared to go along with Option A for DeKalb Street -- skyline lights with a swirled motif and sparkling pole mounts (silhouettes) -- and a snowflake motif for skyline lights and side-mounted lit wreaths and poles with lit garland for Broad Street.

(Coming Monday: a look at other business, including votes during the regular meeting.)

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