Halton Hills and North Halton newspapers
Councillors question validity of survey: only 401 polled
Independent & Free Press (Georgetown, ON), 22 Feb 2006, p. 3

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A Town survey on town-wide priorities that contacted only 400 residents had many Halton Hills councillors questioning its statistical validity. Compustat Consultants' telephone interviews of 401 citizens in November and an on-line survey of 128 town employees showed roads as the number one concern in town. This $30,000 "indicator survey" was commissioned to reveal perceptions of how well the Town delivers its services, and where the Town should be spending its money in its 2006 budget. But some councillors were reluctant to trust a survey that represented the views of a minority of all citizens. "Why does 400 people out of a town of 50,000 people or so give us a reliable sample of what people really want," asked Ward 3 Councillor Moya Johnson. She pointed out that the survey says 34 per cent say transit is important, yet when councillors were considering implementing one last year, "the hue and cry was this is the last thing we want." Councillor Bryan Lewis agreed. "I don't want to challenge (the survey) but I'm having a great deal of difficulty understanding that one per cent of our population should be telling us where we should be putting the bulk of our money." Compustat president Ted Hodge said, "That's the value of doing survey research. In an unbiased manner you can go about randomly selecting from your population and according to wellknown and well-used statistical assumptions, we can gather an accurate opinion of what people are thinking." Hodge said if he repeated the survey with another randomly selected 400 people, he would get the same results, 19 times out of 20. That translates to a 95 per cent confidence level. The "magic number" in statistical research is 400-600 calls to achieve an accurate assessment. "That number has been around for a long time," he said. "As long as we're being random what we say here holds true." While all demographic groups were represented in the survey, a higher proportion of females and people over the age of 55 responded. Of the 1,200 initial calls made, 28 per cent of the people reached refused to participate. Of those who did, 67 per cent lived in Georgetown, 21 per cent in Acton and 12 per cent in rural or hamlet areas. The survey showed that residents gave high importance and high satisfaction ratings to firefighting services, school crossing guards, street lighting and public parks and open spaces. Standing out as priorities were the building and maintenance of roads, economic development, bylaw enforcement, town planning, town facilities and traffic control. Veteran Councillor Ron Chatten ended the debate by stating, "We'll use it as a general guide and that's exactly what it is for. If roads hadn't appeared where it was, then we probably would have made a big mistake. We've taken two per cent of taxes for the last three years (under the pavement management program) and what have we done that for? To improve the roads! "The survey has done exactly what the people wanted," said Chatten. "I think we have to be careful. Let's not read the world into a survey."

Gamble, Cynthia
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22 Feb 2006
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Johnson, Moya ; Lewis, Bryan ; Hodge, Ted ; Chatten, Ron
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Councillors question validity of survey: only 401 polled