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City hires consulting firm to conduct bond issue poll


Mini-survey targets 400 residents who voted in 2012 election

City Communications Officer Dawa Hitch told the Tribune the city has retained Campaign Research and Strategy, a Columbia, South Carolina, research and public relations firm that usually specializes in political strategizing, to survey the opinions of 400 Ashevillians about a bond the city wants to issue in order to fund various city projects and services. The bond’s amount has most recently been cited as $74 million, though the city says that is a not-to-exceed figure and that the actual amount asked for will probably be less.

The poll may already have been completed by the time the Tribune goes to press; city administrators have said they need to have the results in hand in order to discuss a draft version of the referendum resolution at city council’s July 26 meeting, Hitch said. County Clerk Maggie Burleson told the Tribune a public hearing will then be held on the proposal at council’s August 9 meeting.

Hitch said the consultants’ fee will be paid by monies from the city budget’s general fund.

In a memorandum to Hitch, Tige Watts of Campaign Research & Strategy said, “The primary purpose of this research study is to better understand what residents of the City of Asheville, NC identify as priorities facing the city and its government.” He said the survey’s questionnaire “will also be to look into how the voting-age population feels about potential bond referenda projects, their support for such projects and get to get feedback into what public projects they would like to see their city make more investments in.”

He added, “This study will also be able to identify what challenges lie ahead and where those issues rank in comparison to different parts of the city.”

According to Watts, “the polling sample would be designed to be reflective of an election turnout in the City of Asheville for a Presidential election. Thus,” he explained, “if 25 per cent of registered voters who cast votes in November 2012 were over the age of 65, then 25 per cent of the interviews in this polling sample would come from voters older than 65.”

But age is not the only selection factor for poll participants, Watts told Hitch. A listing of all Asheville residents who voted in 2012 would come to several thousand names; to cull those down to a 400-person polling list, Watts said, “the analysis phase is where we take the initial summary results and examine how those results vary among different demographic groups like gender, age, race, geographic areas, etc.”

Contacted by the Tribune, Watts elaborated further on this selection process. “Let’s say the majority of voters in Asheville in 2012 – and I’m just making these demographics up – were African-American, and female, and lived in West Asheville. Then our sample would definitely be weighted by those people.

And if those filters still yielded more than 400 names, would CRS continue to add filters or qualifiers until only 400 names were left?

“Yes, that’s the idea,” said Watts. He did not indicate what the additional qualifiers would be.

In his memo to Hitch, Watts said he expects the margin of error to be plus or minus 4.9 percent. Is that not a fairly wide point spread for an opinion poll? The Tribune asked.

“It’s pretty much in line with the industry standard,” Watts replied. “Well, industry polls probably average about three and a half per cent margin of error, but those are much bigger polls. Obviously if I interview several thousand people I’m going to have a smaller error factor than if I just do four hundred.”

Though CRS’ bread and butter is politics – the firm is popular among South Carolina Democrats – it also does research and public relations work for nonprofits and various governmental agencies and municipalities, Watts said. The CGS website shows CGS has handled pre-referendum activities for bond issues in several Carolina cities including Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte.

On June 20 and again on June 28 city officials met to formulate and tweak an extensive wish list of items that could be funded by the proposed bond issue, from sidewalk repair to affordable housing loans to park renovations to transportation upgrades. The $74 million price tag, which Mayor Esther Manheimer has said she hopes can be pared to “between $50 and $60 million,” would equate to an increase of about $100 in the city tax bill for a house worth $275,000, which is said to be the average cost of a home in Asheville.

The city had until July 1 to submit its borrowing plan to the North Carolina Local Government Commission for review.

Burleson told the Tribune the city expects to receive the results of the CRS phone poll by July 15.

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