After urging more residents to fill out a budget priorities questionnaire last week, city council took the results with a grain of salt at a meeting on Wednesday night.
Although 270 people filled out the online survey, which asked them to rate their satisfaction of 28 different services and provide their opinion on how the budget should be divvied up, councilors and Mayor Shari Green acknowledged its limitations.
"It's important to see this as just one piece of information," city communications and citizen engagement manager Chris Bone said under questioning from council. "It's probably not a statistically relevant sample."
Coun. Dave Wilbur said by giving people a few weeks to respond online may have given special interest groups time to rally people to submit similar answers and skew the results.
"The longer you go, you permit other agendas to arise," Wilbur said. "It makes the data less important and less relevant to the community."
The survey also didn't track the IP addresses of the participants, which could have allowed people to submit multiple responses.
"There's nothing to say one person didn't fill this out 270 times," Green said, noting that extreme was unlikely.
By using an exclusively online poll, Coun. Albert Koehler said it limited who was able to take part, noting seniors could be one group with limited Internet access.
Coun, Brian Skakun said in the future he would like to see the survey conducted earlier in the budget process, to allow the results to be considered before the draft budget is complete.
Respondents gave fire protection the highest average score at 5.89 out of seven, while financial management got the lowest score at 2.55.
The results were also compared to a 2011 telephone survey of about 700 respondents which asked the same questions. The numbers were similar in most categories, although the overall scores were lower this year than two years ago.
Police protection made the biggest jump, going from ninth place in 2011 to fifth place this year. Park maintenance saw the steepest decline, dropping from sixth to 13th.
Since both surveys were done using different methodologies, it's unclear how much can be gleaned from the comparisons.
"You have to look at it through the lens of its intended purpose," Bone said.
The survey also give people a chance to apportion a percentage of the city budget in 13 different categories. Respondents appeared to be generally happy with how the budget is split up, however they would like to see "general government" cut by about three percentage points with most of that freed up cash redirected to roads and debt repayment.