SOUTH PORTLAND — The city’s National Community Survey results, with data from 797 residents, is a potential tool for local leadership, but councilors said it won’t be the only one.

The South Portland City Council discussed the survey results on Feb. 9, conducted by the National Research Center at Polco. According to the Polco website, the center works to give leaders insight through civic participation.

City Manager Scott Morelli said South Portland entered into an agreement with Polco and the National Research Center last fall, using grant funds available from the state. Residents were surveyed between Nov. 10 and Dec. 29, 2020.

He said the survey’s purpose was in part meant to help inform councilors about residents’ views as they related to the budget process.

General conclusions of the survey showed that residents find South Portland a desirable place to live, residents reporting a positive sense of community, said Damema Mann, director of national engagement for Polco. Community members reported feeling safe and gave “high marks” to the police department, praised economic health and see it as an important focus areas, and respondents feel community members follow COVID-19 regulations and mask mandates, most reporting not being sick or having been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Forty-six percent of residents surveyed said that focusing on economic health is essential, and 46 percent said the focus on economic health is very important, said Mann.

National Community Survey results for South Portland residents’ views of potential changes to the police department’s budget. Over 700 residents were surveyed between November and December of 2020. Courtesy photo

A majority of residents surveyed said they strongly supported or somewhat supported increasing the city’s budget, not by reducing the police department’s budget, to hire social workers to respond to nonviolent calls or to fund social programs intended to reduce calls, Mann said.

When the language in the survey changed to “reduce police budget,” there was more of a split in opinion, said Mann.

According to the survey results, 75 percent of participants said neither they nor their household members had never had COVID-19 symptoms. Morelli said about 1 percent of survey takers reported infection.

Councilor April Caricchio said she wanted to stress that although the data is useful, the council should make sure it isn’t overly relying on only one source.

“We’re one of the most concentrated areas in this state, so if I were someone who just counted on this survey to inform me about something — for example, who’s reporting they have COVID, and the answer is nobody, then I would not have the information I need to make decisions,” she said.

The city would never use survey results to see COVID-19 data, Morelli said. One intention of the survey was to see if certain districts were having a higher number of COVID-19 cases than others, and if so, more education about the disease could be necessary.

“We would go right to CDC,” he said. “This is more what people are reporting in their households, and can we then break it down by district and demographic.”

Mayor Misha Pride said the survey results are helpful in measuring how much work needs to be done.

“If there is something important to you, then it’s good to know how people generally feel about it in order to get an idea of how much work we need to do,” he said.

Members of the public can view the entire National Community Survey results on the city’s website, southportland.org/national-community-survey-results.

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