The Falmouth Focus is a new bi-monthly e-newsletter designed to keep residents informed about what’s happening in town. Courtesy / Town of Falmouth

FALMOUTH — The council Monday unanimously approved spending $45,000 on an expanded outreach and communication effort, calling it a good value despite some detractors who said otherwise.

The undesignated surplus funds are expected to cover the cost of a part-time communication coordinator, printing, and newspaper advertising through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2020, according to Town Manager Nathan Poore.

Councilors justified the spending Monday by saying the increased communication effort was in response to public demand for regular and timely information on a host of topics, including proposed big development projects and zoning changes.

The council committed to better communication with residents through a resolution last spring that also called for the creation of a “strategic communications plan,” which is still in the works.

Among new efforts are a twice-monthly town newsletter called The Falmouth Focus. The newsletter is offered in an opt-in, emailed format, although paper copies are available at Town Hall, Falmouth Memorial Library and the Mason-Motz Activity Center.

So far the newsletter has included reports on meetings and town events, along with information about capital improvement projects, taxes and voting.

Other efforts include a weekly ad in The Forecaster and more postings on social media. Erin Cadigan, the town’s new education and outreach coordinator, said at the council’s Oct. 16 meeting that better coordination between town departments is starting to pay off.

At the meeting, Cadigan also went over the results of a survey of town residents. She said about 345 people responded, of which 76% said they would welcome an emailed newsletter. The majority, 73%, also said that one of the most effective ways of communicating with residents is e-alerts.

Last month Cadigan also told the council that she’s continuing to work on a strategic plan that includes data tracking and gathering and a review of best practices for reaching residents.

All of this is “super-important,” according to resident Valentine Sheldon, who’s been critical of the town’s outreach in the past.

However, Monday he questioned the spending and said while improved communication is “important to do, we need to know where the money is going and what the plan is (first). This feels like a blank check.”

He also noted that only 6% of households in town responded to the communication survey.

John Winslow, a resident who regularly speaks out on budget issues, also argued that the $45,000 was unnecessary.

“We’re heading down the road to another significant tax increase,” he argued Monday. “It’s only common sense that there’s only so much we can do.”

In defending the additional spending, Councilor Jay Trickett said “we’ve received a fair amount of public comment and heard a lot about the need for a communications initiative. This is money well spent to respond to a public request.”

“This spending is the minimal amount we need for effective communication,” he added. “I’m personally proud of what we’ve done and this is not a lot of money given the level of change we’ve committed to.”

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