Survey: Bennington not happy with town governance

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BENNINGTON — Too many people aren't satisfied with town government, according to the Select Board chairman.

The results of the 2016 Bennington Citizen Survey were unveiled at the board meeting Monday. The survey, circulated in November, sought the community's opinion on a wide range of topics ranging from town services such as police, fire, rescue, and snow removal, to the vitality of the nightlife in downtown.

One of the questions was, "Are you satisfied with town governance?" Respondents could say "yes," "no," or "I need more information." Of the 530 people who responded to the survey, 37 percent said yes, 36 percent no, and 27 percent needed more information.

"I'd say it's close to a vote of no confidence in our leadership right now," said board chairman Thomas Jacobs. "Frankly, if it were (37 percent) on it's own, I'd say, as a politician, you can't please everyone all the time but when you look at the fact that (27 percent) doesn't even feel they have enough information...it's the majority that we're faced with."

Most of the survey questions had a limited range of answers. Respondents could rate something high, medium, or low. Many items fell within the mid-range, however one area that repeatedly got low scores was programs for youth.

Bennington Community and Economic Development Director Michael Harrington said this is the first time this survey has been circulated. The goal is to improve upon it and use it as a measuring tool to determine what areas town government should focus on bolstering.

Board member Donald Campbell said some people may find the range of answers too limiting.

While board members felt that 530 responses was a decent number, others took issue with it. Joey Kulkin, who attended the meeting and manages a Facebook page called "The Politics of Bennington" relayed a comment made on the page by Ed Letourneau which reads, "530 responses is less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the Bennington population. The information has no value for intelligent decisions."

There was some discussion about the possibility of having a consulting firm conduct the survey and seek our more responses.

The highs

Police, ambulance, and fire services received high to medium scores on the survey as did things like transportation and the quality of neighborhoods. Town staff received largely high scores on areas such as how knowledgeable they are, how willing they are to help, and in being respectful and courteous.

The lows

Respondents' views of the the downtown were rather dim. Almost no one said the downtown has a good nightlife. Entertainment, variety of eateries and retail stores, and vibrancy received dismal scores. Cleanliness and curb appeal received tepid responses.

Demographics

Most of the people who took the survey live in Bennington. A little more than half are fully employed. Three quarters have lived in Bennington for more than 10 years. Most own their own living space. A little under half make over $59,000 per year. most , 65 percent, are over 45 and 56 percent were female.

When asked where most people did their shopping, only 19 percent said downtown stores. Forty percent shop online while 41 percent go to "big box" and chain stores.

Reach Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115 or @kwhitcombjr


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