John Macauley, chairman of the Mount Desert Board of Selectmen. Macauley called paying for an online survey service to solicit voter opinions like "buying a Cadillac to drive to Hannaford." ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Online survey push met with skepticism

MOUNT DESERT — The idea of the town subscribing to an online polling service to collect input from residents on community issues was met with skepticism from members of the Board of Selectmen on Monday.

“If we wanted to find out what the pulse was in the town for a given issue …, I think there are much simpler ways to do that,” board Chairman John Macauley said.

“I think if this works great for Bar Harbor and there are unforeseen advantages, then I would say ‘sure.’ But right now, it’s kind of like buying a Cadillac to drive to Hannaford.”

The Bar Harbor Town Council voted June 27 to subscribe to Polco, which allows town officials to ask specific yes-or-no questions. Residents respond online, using a “widget” that can be embedded on the town’s website or linked on social media. Bar Harbor will pay $8,700 for one year of the service and a local staffer to create the polls.

Bar Harbor resident Nina St. Germain presented the idea to the Town Council and is leading the effort to have the other three towns on Mount Desert Island subscribe and share the cost of the service.

She told the Mount Desert selectmen that if all of the towns sign on, the cost to Mount Desert would be about $5,300 a year.

Selectman Rick Mooers said he would like to talk with Mount Desert residents to see if they would be likely to use the Polco service.

“Some of them probably would leap at the chance. But how many?” he said. “We have 2,053 citizens, some of them children. It would be nice to know how many of them would actually enjoy having such a subscription paid for with their tax dollars.”

Nevertheless, Mooers said he found the idea intriguing as “a possible means of communicating with our constituency and getting them to actively participate in their own community government.”

Selectman Wendy Littlefield expressed concern about the amount of time it would take for someone to properly manage and maintain the online survey service.

“I think it’s a great way to get people to participate and give their opinion,” she said. “But we need to make sure we can maintain it and get the correct information.”

Macauley said that, in his experience, conducting meaningful surveys isn’t as simple as it might seem.

“The pitfalls are the questions you’re asking, and it’s not trivial,” he said.

Selectman Matt Hart expressed more openness to the idea of using Polco, noting that such a service would have been useful in getting resident feedback on such recent issues as plans for redesigning Main Street in Northeast Harbor and expanding broadband service.

“There’s a lot going on in the town right now, and if there are ways to save time for some of these committees …, I would hate to just brush it off,” Hart said.

But he agreed with other board members that any decision should be made as part of the process of creating the 2018-2019 municipal budget.

The selectmen invited St. Germain to come back and talk with them about Polco in December.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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