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Joyce Endee

Police station expansion may fare better when economy improves

August 19, 2009
The results of a survey that asked Gilford residents to explain the reasoning behind their votes for the proposed police station addition showed that money was a primary factor for those who opposed the project.

Statistics and Economics consultant Christopher Leggett prepared and compiled the results of the survey at the request of the Board of Selectmen, which was looking for a consensus on why voters rejected this year's $1.58 million proposal to expand the police station.

The board requested the survey in April. The survey consisted of a two-page questionnaire with six questions and was sent to a random sample of 500 registered voters who participated in the 2009 election.

At the selectmen meeting last Wednesday, Leggett explained that he was not a building or design expert, but that he often worked with percentages and did put his full effort into determining the concerns of Gilford residents through the survey.

"The purpose of the survey is to understand why voters rejected the article. The bottom line and the general opinion is that voters generally believed this article should be put on the ballot again, after the economy improves," said Leggett.

Selectman John O'Brien felt that the 58 percent of the voters, who viewed the declining economy as a time to refrain from such projects, might have looked at the proposed project from the wrong angle.

"Voters said they want to wait until the economy gets better. If we work on the project as the economy while bad we will get cheaper fees for the building. It's a catch-22 either way," said O'Brien.

Leggett said that the voters were also concerned with the priorities of town spending and afraid of insufficient spending, considering 28 percent opposed spending increases and 18 percent did not see a reason to expand the police department in the first place.

Leggett also concluded that many voters did not strongly oppose the project, but felt the town could utilize the existing space more so. But for most, Leggett said the issue appeared to be money and the need for more information on the project. Voters wanted to know more about the need for the expansion and more about the design details, said Leggett.

"Voters wanted to know if the town could find ways to cut down the cost and address the police station needs without an expensive project. The survey also shows there's the desire for more information from the town, and voters could be persuaded to vote but they needed clearer information," said Leggett.

Voters were also split on the use of the proposed geothermal heating system and wanted to know more about the advantages and disadvantages of geothermal heating verse conventional heating, said Leggett.

Selectman Kevin Hayes said he couldn't seem to find one general opinion in the survey, but Chair Gus Benavides said the board would take the comments into consideration when working on the 2010 budget this year.

The board thanked Leggett for the countless hours he put into collecting data and also requested that he work along side them during the project to make sure the voters' concerns were heard and their opinions in the survey were fully understood.

The six survey questions included asking the voters their opinions on the current funding levels for the town departments, if the voters would vote for or against the warrant article next time around, the reasons they may have voted against the article, if the town should consider modifying the project, their opinions on alternative ways to modify the department, and a final open-ended question for additional comments.

The police department has been looking to expand for several years now.

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