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Sylva leaders survey citizens about town services

By Sarah Kucharski * Staff Writer

Is there enough affordable housing in Sylva? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood? Are you satisfied with street repair? How often do you go to Poteet Park?

Town leaders are looking for answers to these questions and others in a new citizen satisfaction survey designed to solicit public opinion from homeowners about the town’s current services and future improvements.

The 21-question survey, which will be sent out this week, was developed by Christopher Cooper, assistant professor of political science and director of WCU’s master’s degree program in public affairs, and WCU graduate student Alison Melnikova.

“I hope people really fill it out, because we’re really going to listen,” said town board member Stacy Knotts.

Knotts made conducting a citizen survey part of her campaign platform in last November’s municipal elections. At the time Knotts said that she was surprised how few Sylva residents participated in government relations, from voting to attending meetings. A public opinion survey and the creation of additional methods with which to gather feedback — such as an online suggestion box — might help get more people involved, Knotts said.

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After the election — an uncontested race for Knotts and fellow candidate Harold Hensley following board member Eldridge Painter’s decision not to seek re-election and board member Anne Cabe’s resignation amid a church-based embezzling scandal — Knotts made a citizen satisfaction survey her first order of business.

Board members supported the idea, at least in part because the survey comes at no cost to the town. Cooper is donating his time spent on the survey because it also is being used as a student learning project.

“It was kind of a win-win situation,” Knotts said.

Using town officials’ input and other surveys as a model, Cooper tailored a survey specifically for Sylva — from parking to snow removal, public transit to town demographics.

“I started off by talking to the town about what information they wanted to learn,” Cooper said.

The survey is designed to take no more than 10 minutes and comes with a pre-paid envelope to mail it back in, a measure Cooper and town board members hope will encourage a greater number of responses. In addition, respondents may enter a raffle to win dinner for two at Nick & Nate’s — donated also to encourage participation.

“The more people that respond the better,” Cooper said.

This go around the survey is limited to Sylva homeowners. Homeowner records tend to be more current than voter registration lists, said Cooper, who previously has worked with the Census Bureau. The town board hopes to later develop similar surveys that may bring in input from business owners and residents who may not own their homes, Knotts said.

“Just to see what we got out of the first one we thought that was a good starting point,” Knotts said of the homeowners’ roster.

Neither Cooper nor Knotts could predict what kind of response the survey would garner; however, Knotts said she expected to hear feedback on two main issues she picked up on during her campaign — curbside recycling and street maintenance.

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