Public Forum and Focus Groups
The members of the Finance Committee wish to thank all who took time from their busy lives to participate in the focus groups and public forums conducted in August and September. The input provided valuable insights into residents’ and the business community’s ideas of Spencer’s assets, explore future prospects, identify hopes and ascertain results. Some eighty people attended public forums at the Spencer Senior Center and the Richard Sugden Library and focus groups for the Finance Committee, department heads, elected and appointed boards and committees, parents and teachers, and veterans.
A variety of opinions were expressed regarding the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and identifiable results. Responses were thoughtful and consistent. Included were many suggestions for methods by which the ideas could be achieved and those will be explored during the planning process. A final query enabled participants to envision an ideal-case scenario where money to finance town activities would be no object.
Foremost among strengths identified are the sense of community and the dedication and skill of town employees in all departments including schools. Elected and appointed board and committee members were commended for performing difficult tasks as volunteers. Stick-to-it-ivness is an element recognized as common to all especially given the financial challenges of the past several years.
Forum participants appreciate the town’s rural character, the variety and convenience of businesses, all of our public parks and trails, or schools, senior center, central and convenient location near, but not too near highways, and our special town events, particularly the Parade of Lights and the fireworks. St. Joseph’s Abbey, Camp Marshall and the Spencer Fair grounds were citied consistently as well.
Opportunities, those elements of town service that we can improve upon to benefit the town, include a call to improve downtown by sprucing up facades and bringing infrastructure to standards; bring town department staffing to appropriate levels to provide required service; develop and improve recreational venues and bring back related programming; work with the schools to stress their strengths and support them; and develop both the plans and the means essential to encourage growth of existing business and attract new businesses.
Fully staffing departments, according to participants, leads to better customer served and generates a more positive perception of the town. Roads get plowed more quickly, taxes get collected and deposited faster, grant opportunities can be seized and the library can reopen on Saturdays.
Other frequently mentioned opportunities are to improve schools, to improve and expand town water and sewer, to increase services to seniors, to provide more recreational programs especially swimming lessons, and to develop a town common.
By seizing the opportunities, what do participants aspire to achieve as a town? Primarily the hope is for a change in public perception. There is a strong desire to focus on the positive attributes, to have pride in Spencer and what it offers. Participants advocated for persistence in meeting needs. “Don’t give up,” they said, “when something unexpected gets in the way.” If certain plans have to be put in the background to address a crisis, be persistent in returning to the plan once the crisis has abated. There is a desire to see elected officials take leadership for addressing the dearth of financial resources that has beset Spencer over the last several years. They are encouraged to “pound the drum” to educate citizens on the need for adequate and
reliable funding and continue to actively seek a variety of resources. Overall there is belief that the town will achieve financial stability.
Another strong and persistent hope is to build pride in our schools. It is important to highlight the strengths and opportunities offered within the schools to bring our students back from away. What was the number one hope, that is the single item mentioned most frequently in all the forums? Bring back the Fourth of July fireworks!
How will we know when we have achieved results? What measurable, tangible evidence should we look for? Answers were straightforward. We will have increased revenue, increased school enrollment, town services at desirable levels, open, well maintained parks, trails and roads, and community, cultural and recreational events for all from babies to senior citizens. Our downtown will be beautiful and well maintained, with a common and we will have many new businesses.
Once the formal review was completed, participants were asked to dream big. The final question, “If money were no object, what would you like for the town?” brought strong and consistent responses virtually all of which address the quality of life in town. First was the desire to have sufficient resources to support the essential town services at a reasonable level. After that the overwhelming opinion is that the town would be greatly enhanced by a venue that could provide performance, display and recreation space, a community center, that is. Perhaps it takes the form of a youth club or senior center. It might include an indoor swimming pool and concert hall or theater. Overall it needs to be a place where public programs can be offered to the entire community year-round.