November 21, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Phoenix leaders reversed course this week, rejecting a plan to spend up to $1.1 million to survey residents, airport passengers, utility customers and city workers.
City Council members, who had previously approved the deal, voted down two proposed contracts for public-polling firms to conduct various surveys over the next five years, which would have cost at least $200,000 per year.
Critics said the surveys are a poor use of resources given Phoenix likely faces a budget shortfall next year and has shrunk its police force in recent years. The council voted 5-3 to oppose the surveys.
"I think that the price tag is expensive, especially when you're talking about a city potentially going into a budget" deficit, said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who led opposition to the plan. "I think it's a waste of taxpayer monies."
Council members DiCiccio, Thelda Williams, Jim Waring, Bill Gates and Michael Nowakowski voted against the contracts. Nowakowski, who initially supported the deal, proved the crucial swing vote.
Mayor Greg Stanton and council members Daniel Valenzuela and Kate Gallego voted for the survey expenses. Councilwoman Laura Pastor was absent.
"Let's not forget the objective here," Valenzuela said. "We should be governing based on public input. This is more than just a survey."
A fraction of the $1.1 million cost would have come from the city's general fund, which pays for day-to-day services, such as police and fire. The bulk of the money would have come from Phoenix's airport, solid-waste and water-services funds, which are separate from the general city budget.
Regardless of the source of money, opponents suggested the city explore whether a local university could conduct the surveys for free. DiCiccio said a professor from Grand Canyon University had contacted his office to offer polling services at little or no cost.
But the council ultimately opted not to rebid the contracts or explore alternatives, at least for the time being. The city had contracted with opinion research firms to conduct regular surveys since 1985.
"I think right now, we really need to concentrate on the needs of the city more than the wants," Nowakowski said. "I'm hearing (from residents that) the top priority is more police officers on the streets."