By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Nov. 30, 2023) An overwhelming majority of residents are satisfied with the quality of life provided by the Town of Berlin, according to a survey of the public’s view of municipal services conducted by BEACON (The Business Economic And Community Outreach Network) at Salisbury University.
The survey, which was mailed out in residents’ utility bills, was conducted as phase one of a strategic planning process embarked by the town.
After much debate over the success of phase one, the Town Council voted Monday to allow BEACON to proceed with phase two of the strategic planning process, with Councilmembers Steve Green, Jay Knerr and Dean Burrell voting in favor and Councilmembers Jack Orris and Shaneka Nichols voting against it.
The concern raised by Orris and Nichols was the survey’s low level of response.
“I would have preferred to see a little more outreach for the strategic plan,” council member Jack Orris said.
Nichols noted that those receiving the utility bill are property owners, but could be renting the home to a resident who then did not receive the survey.
BEACON received 111 survey responses from Berlin residents, a 2 percent return.
Mayor Zack Tyndall reminded council members that that was a larger rate of response than the turnout in the last town elections.
“BEACON has done a fabulous job with phase 1. Phase 2, that’s where it will start to take shape,” Tyndall said.
Green noted that there were no surprises in the survey’s results, so he was not too concerned about the low response rate.
Ninety percent of respondents said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of life in Berlin, the survey found.
BEACON surveyed residents and conducted a separate phone survey of council members and two Worcester County commissioners, with residents and the elected officials providing similar responses.
Both residents and elected officials noted strengths such as the small town charm of Berlin, sense of community and safety.
Elected officials also noted customer service, unique town events, and transparency by the local government.
Similar to residents’ responses, the elected officials surveyed said they were concerned about parking, affordable housing, an aging infrastructure and stormwater management.
Elected officials thought town priorities should include building a new community center, plans for Heron Park and the skate park, stormwater management, sidewalks, and funding for infrastructure and the fire department.
When asked what specific community services or facilities are lacking, 60 percent of those polled identified recreational facilities and 32 percent said affordable housing.
Sixty-three percent of the respondents thought the local government involved residents in the decision-making process.
When residents were asked what specific goals the town should prioritize in its strategic planning, the most mentioned objective was environmental conservation. Historic preservation and fiscal responsibility tied for second and infrastructure and services came in third.
BEACON also convened a stakeholders meeting with representatives from Atlantic General Hospital, the Worcester County Board of Education, Berlin Police Department, Tourism and various town employees.
During the session, the representatives discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the town with the team from BEACON, with the results mirroring those of the residents and elected officials replying to the survey.
In addition, the representatives noted a limited workforce to fill positions in public services and concern over infrastructure, including fiber optic internet.
The group then drafted examples of vision statements for the town. One example of a vision statement created said, “At the heart of the Town of Berlin lies our unwavering commitment to fostering a community that embodies a clean, safe, enjoyable, and affordable environment for residents, workers, and visitors alike. We envision a town where these core values serve as the foundation for a vibrant and thriving community, creating a harmonious balance between tradition and progress.”
Based on the discussion with the council, BEACON will delay its public meeting, scheduled for Dec. 4 to January. The hope is that after the holidays attendance will be greater. Two meetings will take place, one at the Berlin Library and one at St. Paul’s UMC on Flower Street. Dates and times have yet to be set.
The meetings will give residents another opportunity to share their thoughts. BEACON representatives will be asking the same questions as those provided in the print survey in hopes of getting more perspective from residents.
“The public will have multiple options to comment throughout the process,” Tyndall said.
Also included in phase two is a half-day strategic planning retreat for a targeted group of officials and constituents. Phase 3 will be the development of the strategic plan.