Washougal conducting survey as it prepares to tackle budget

With deficit looming, city seeks input on services that matter most to residents

By Justin Runquist, Columbian small cities reporter

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Before delivering its next long-term budget forecast this summer, the city of Washougal is conducting a survey to see what services matter most to the community.

The most recent forecast, issued within the last year, projected a deficit of about $560,000 in the city’s general fund for 2015, City Administrator David Scott said. The survey results could help officials figure out how to patch the hole, Scott said.

“We can’t do everything, so we need to hear from them about what’s important and how satisfied they are,” he said. “You can make adjustments based on the feedback you get.”

The survey will touch upon a variety of service areas, including parks, street maintenance, police, fire and emergency medical response, economic development and growth management. Respondents will be asked to rank these in order of importance and to share their level of satisfaction with them.

It’ll also ask a series of more detailed questions relating to law enforcement, including whether residents feel safe in Washougal. Officials hope another question about recreational marijuana will give them a sense of whether the community wants to let any part of the new industry operate within city limits.

The questionnaire is just one piece of the city’s approach to tackling its budget deficit. The city gets most of its revenue from sales, utility and property taxes – the last of which increases too slowly each year to keep up with growing expenses, Scott said.

The city hired the ETC Institute, a data collection firm that works with city governments around the county, to put together the survey. A presentation of the results has been scheduled for the July 14 city council meeting.

Officials hope to get at least 400 responses, enough for a fairly accurate representation of the city’s 14,500 residents, Scott said. After this summer, he hopes to continue sending out the survey every couple years or so to keep an eye on changing needs and feelings in the community.

“We’re the stewards of the public’s resources, and we’re expected to be good stewards and to be prudent,” Scott said. “We owe it to the community to be as efficient as we can.”