Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Thanks again to our awesome note-taker Mason Taylor!
It's budget season! Read on to find out more about what the County has been up to.
Claiming to want to increase "public engagement and understanding of the budget," for FY 2022/23, the Sac County Board of Supes approved a Community Engagement Plan on June 9th of this year. Part of this process included approving a contract, on Oct. 5th, for FM3 Research (a professional public opinion firm) to develop a survey instrument and conduct a scientific poll of Sacramento County residents to determine their budget priorities. The poll is supposed to be guided by feedback, suggestions, and ideas that County staff gathered over the summer by reaching out to County Boards and Commissions, and by sending priority surveys out to other jurisdictions in the County.
The poll is to collect demographic and geographic data in order to created a detailed report on the survey results, key findings, and recommendations. FM3 Research will present the results to the Board of Supes, and it will then be combined with the other input received to recommend budget priorities to the BOS to consider.
Feedback from Serna
(supervisor Serna pictured below)
Supervisor Serna asked how the survey captures people who are currently unsheltered, and the representative presenting on the survey methodology said that the way the survey is currently planned will not adequately capture this population, and offered a couple solutions. Serna recommended that the County work in collaboration with organizations like Sacramento Steps Forward with their navigation team to invite unhoused individuals to complete the survey using a unique URL provided.
The representative shared this about the survey methodology:
We will set demographic quotas based on census data for age, gender, ethnicity, and geography within the county, and once we’ve interviewed enough people in one demographic group, we will simply keep targeting our additional interviews towards those underrepresented groups until at the end of the day the respondents we have reflect the composition of the county as a whole… the final body of data will look like the overall population of Sacramento county
This survey will be conducted in 9 languages other than English, with quotas to get responses from different demographic groups, and it will use text, phone calls, email, and postcard interview methods.
Why did we settle (and pay generously) for the surveying methodology provided by Deloitte for ARPA spending, if this system is already in place to survey residents about budget priorities with better methodology for collecting responses from underrepresented groups, people who speak languages other than English, and who are geographically diverse (all of which Deloitte’s survey back in June did not, or could not confirm with certainty)?
Yes, ARPA is in the context of equitable COVID recovery, and this survey is about overall budget priorities. However, as the BOS continues to plan for the allocation of ARPA funds, hopefully they will take all data into account, especially if there is a better representative sample in this survey.
Concerning the six overall categories (public safety; economic development; services for children, seniors, and families; parks and environmental protection; maintenance of infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public buildings; reducing homelessness) that folks will be surveyed on, Supervisor Serna asked a wonderful clarifying question about the wording of the category “public safety.” Serna named public health, child and adult protective services as parts of public safety as well, the point being that some residents will think about public safety as only concerning police and fire. This raises an important question of the county’s actual definition of public safety. The City of Sacramento has done quite a bit of work around redefining public safety, but the county has trailed behind in any effort to generate a community-informed definition of safety.
Regarding a question from Serna about the overall intent of the survey
Serna asked, “so we’re deploying this survey for the principal reason of understanding the community’s disposition relative to priorities for the budget, correct?” County Executive Ann Edwards confirmed that this is true, and that the survey is also being conducted so that the county staff can make budget recommendations to the board.
Serna then asked
hypothetically, what if the survey gives us a result that is fairly incongruent with what staff preconceives, or even what the board preconceives - are we going to be prepared to explain at some point – perhaps very uncomfortably – that ‘well, it’s good to have the information that the survey provides but for various reasons we’re going to deviate from what the community tells us,’ it’s a bit of a gamble
To which, Ann Edwards said, “yeah, it is a bit of a gamble, and I’m fully committed to being completely transparent about what the survey says and, alongside of that, would give my recommendation which may be different – I hope it’s not – but that is possible, and I would explain very clearly why the recommendation is different. And it is something we will all have to grapple with.”
Serna: “so, to some extent, to be very candid here with the public, it sounds to me like this is intended to in part, perhaps in large part, confirm as much as anything else. We know, generally, having gone through the recent experience with the ARPA survey, that exercise… served to confirm kind of what we understood ourselves already… I just really want to understand, ‘what is the added value that we get from this?’ I think it’s useful, but perhaps it’s more useful in the context that Nottoli stated which is… how to provide services better.”
Essentially, between the board members and the County Executive, the value of this survey is one of customer service improvement more than a process that is meant to inform government spending.
Ann shared that if her staff’s recommendations about the next fiscal year budget are not the same as the community’s that we will just “all have to grapple with” it.
At least, they will explain to us why our collective voice is not powerful enough to meaningfully sway budgets (sarcasm).
Serna mentioned that the interest in Sacramento that has really risen to the forefront in the last few years around participatory budgeting. He asked the group whether or not it would be valuable to have a question or series of questions to ask how people feel about that concept. In response, Ann Edwards said, “we would have to work hard to define what participatory budget means because I think it means different things to different people… and it’s risky.” Ann agreed that this survey in itself is not participatory budgeting – it is just feedback.
It seems as though this dialogue was meant to assure advocates of participatory budgeting that this survey is not meant to be, as Serna said, a “surrogate” for a participatory budgeting process. The fact that the county’s budgeting recommendations might end up being totally different from the feedback in the public survey is evidence of that. The survey is in no way a replacement for a participatory budgeting process, but there is untapped potential in the facilitation of this survey.
Public comment: someone called in and expressed disappointment at the lack of community input in the development of this survey. The caller mentioned that the board has already heard presentations from The People’s Budget Sacramento 2-3 times about the results of their community survey from 2,500 residents; the public opinion survey being conducted within the county is only hoping to collect data from 800 participants.
To our knowledge we are still waiting on the survey results to be presented at the BOS. Heard of any updates we may have missed? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org