Online survey guides Tacoma

After a failure in May to get the public to back four ballot propositions on capital spending, Tacoma, Wash., city council members decided they needed a better idea of what citizens are willing to pay higher taxes to fund.

To gather such public opinion, council members have turned to the World Wide Web.

Beginning Nov. 2, the city has posted descriptions of 14 potential construction packages on its Web site (www.cityoftacoma.org) and enabled people to indicate the capital facilities packages they would be willing to fund.

The Web survey is part of a citizen outreach process dubbed "Your city. Your say. Our future," which began in August with a mailed booklet, telephone hot lines and community workshops.

The capital-spending packages, ranging from $2 million to $42.2 million, were decided on after a series of nine community workshops. About 240 citizens contributed more than 500 comments on what they felt were the publicly funded capital facilities Tacoma needs most.

"This kind of expensive community outreach effort is something we have not done before," said Dan Voelpel, Tacoma's capital facilities outreach coordinator. "The last time the city asked voters for a special election was back in 1980, when they voted on funding for the Tacoma Dome. There are very few people working in city government now who were around for that."

The Web survey was scheduled to end today, with the outreach effort on this round of funding due to be wrapped up by Nov. 27. The council then will decide which dates will be best to put the "winning" packages on the ballot.

City officials already are convinced of the usefulness of the outreach effort, given the online comments they've received from citizens.

"They do seem to appreciate being asked about these measures, and we feel it's definitely a benefit to use the same approach in the future," Voelpel said. "Given the current climate, it just makes sense not to ask for citizen support on a ballot if they clearly don't want to raise taxes for a particular purpose. And this kind of outreach will tell us if that's the case."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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