The direction of city services and tax policy could hinge on who picks up the telephones in Pickerington homes.

The direction of city services and tax policy could hinge on who picks up the telephones in Pickerington homes.

Pickerington City Council in May will consider spending a total of $18,500 to find out what city residents think of city services and how much they might be willing to spend to get more from their government.

Council's finance committee voted 5-2 on April 21 to support hiring Columbus-based Governing Dynamic LLC to conduct a community survey and guide city officials' strategic planning after the information is collected.

If the full council agrees to the proposal, the city would spend $12,500 to poll approximately 300 residents on issues related to the city and its financing issues.

Governing Dynamics, run by Hilliard City Councilman Brett Sciotto, also would receive $6,000 to lead a day-and-a-half planning session at the conclusion of the survey to help Pickerington officials implement policies or develop a tax levy.

"We're (considering) hiring a consultant and then drafting a 30- to 40-question survey," said Tim Hansley, Pickerington city manager. "It's a telephone survey, and I think they have to make 300 confirmed contacts with city residents. It's about a 15- to 20-minute survey."

Cities throughout central Ohio have used similar strategies to shape policy or measure support or opposition to tax increases.

In 2007, the city of Delaware spent $8,400 to have Boulder, Colo.-based National Research Center Inc. randomly distribute 1,200 surveys to city residents.

While the Pickerington survey hasn't been developed, a likely topic will be taxes. City officials have been looking for ways to increase revenues since residents last November rejected a proposed income tax increase.

That proposal would have raised income taxes from 1 to 2 percent for those who work but don't live in the city and for those who don't pay an income tax elsewhere. It was expected to generate an additional $3-million in revenue.

Hansley said a community survey might indicate whether residents would support another run at increasing income taxes, or if a police levy might be more palatable.

"We'd like to know why this failed," he said. "We have a critical funding gap that has to be addressed by somebody at some point."

Finance committee members last week unanimously supported doing the survey. Differences, however, rose over providing additional money for what was dubbed a "strategic planning retreat."

"I think we're going to have a hard time convincing people we don't have the money if we do this," said Councilman Brian Wisniewski, who, along with Cristie Hammond, voted against the proposed contract. "I'm definitely against the $6,000 for a strategic planning retreat."

Hansley said the city of Dublin, where he formerly was city manager, spent similar amounts annually to hold strategic planning retreats and the events helped streamline and organize city business.

Council President Pro Tempore Jeff Fix said the retreat would help the city determine courses of action.

"It's taking the results of the survey and putting them in a format that we can actually do something with," he said. "I think if we can go to our citizens and say, 'You spoke to us and we heard you and this is what we're going to do about it' is much stronger than if we say, 'You spoke and we heard you.'"

Hansley said the city received a reduced cost by bidding on the survey and strategic planning services in one contract. He added if council approves the contract, the survey likely would be administered in May or June.

nellis@thisweeknews.com