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South Portland to quiz residents on municipal services; armory proposal advances

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South Portland to quiz residents on municipal services; armory proposal advances

SOUTH PORTLAND — In early November, about 10 percent of the city's residents will be invited to participate in an online survey about public services provided by local government.

The City Council reviewed the questionnaire at a workshop on Monday night, where they also discussed a proposed conditional zone that would allow a sound stage for film production at the former National Guard Armory.  

It's been more than 10 years since residents have been surveyed about the type and quality of city services. Officials, including City Manager Jim Gailey and Mayor Tom Blake, said they still refer to the results of that survey when deliberating policy issues. 

Unlike the previous survey, the one to be conducted next month will not be mailed to residents. Instead, 2,300 randomly selected residents will be invited to take the survey online. Officials hope that at least 20 percent, or 450, will complete the survey. 

"We feel that's a very valid statistical representation," city Finance Director Greg L'Heureux said. 

South Portland is one of four municipalities in the state to participate in the New England States Performance Measurement Project, a program devised by the New England States Government Finance Officers Association. L'Heureux is a member of the association's steering committee.

L'Heureux said he expects more than a dozen New England municipalities will ultimately participate in the survey, which is intended not only to measure South Portland's performance, but to allow comparisons to other towns and cities in the region.

The survey measures overall satisfaction with quality of life and the performance of specific departments. The survey will take about 20 minutes to complete and will cost the city about $3,000.

Although the council supported the survey, Councilors Maxine Beecher and Jim Soule said they are concerned that the online format would preclude some senior citizens from participating. But L'Heureux said terminals could be set up in nursing homes, City Hall and at the Community Center to give that population access to the survey and assistance in filling it out. 

"South Portland is an incredibly mature community," Soule said. "You look at who votes – the gray panthers are out there. You really need that cross-section to make it valuable."

Armory

In other business, the council also reviewed the conditional zone proposed for the former National Guard Armory at the foot of the Casco Bay Bridge. It would allow a Cape Elizabeth resident to establish a sound stage for production of  films and commercials.

Councilors generally supported the proposal, but were split about including a 120-foot-wide strip of land owned by Central Maine Power Co. Residents living in the Scammon Street neighborhood have also opposed that element of the plan, which they believe would encourage development too close to the property line.

City staff said the parcel was included because the only existing access to the armory property is via the CMP land, which would also be needed to allow an area for production trucks to turn around and position themselves to unload equipment. Councilors instructed the city manager to consult with the city attorney to see if rezoning that land is necessary.

A provision that would have allowed public art galleries and studios will likely be removed from the proposal.

The council will conduct a first reading of the proposal at its business meeting scheduled for Monday night, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m. in City Hall Council Chambers.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net