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New West maps out plan for engagement on its 2025 budget

More than 10,000 New West residents and businesses to be invited to do a 2025 budget survey.
New Westminster council has approved an engagement plan for the city's 2025 budget.

New West residents and businesses will soon get to share their thoughts on the city’s 2025 budget.

Council has directed staff to proceed with engagement related to the City of New Westminster’s 2025 budget. That includes spending $35,000 to engage a public opinion research firm to complete the budget engagement.

Shehzad Somji, the city’s chief financial officer, said staff proposes hiring Ipsos to conduct a random survey of 10,000 residents. Ipsos will also reach out to all the 1,700-plus businesses that are on file in the city.

Somji explained that those residents and businesses would receive an online survey with an anonymous unique identifier, which helps track the number of responses received from the random sample.

“We would also have the survey available online on our budget page for those residents who are not randomly selected,” he said. “We would also propose to have a paper survey available at various city facilities. This would ensure that those residents who do not have the technology requirements to complete the online survey would still be able to complete a paper-based survey.”

Somji said a translation option for the online survey would also be available for residents who do not have English as their primary language.

Somji said Ipsos has determined that the response rate for surveys ranges from five to 15 per cent.

“So that would be anywhere from 500 to 1,500 residents who could potentially respond to the survey,” he said. “And just for reference, in 2024, based on public engagement that took place, there was 470 responses.”

Somji said the timing of the engagement will be about three months.

“So, if council is to provide support today, we get underway with Ipsos and provide a report back to council in September,” he told council at a July 8 workshop. “And that will help us kick off the budget process and as well provide information not only to council, but to all staff who are developing their departmental budgets.”

In a 4-1 vote, council directed staff to proceed with the 2025 budget public engagement, including the online survey.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa was the lone council member to oppose the plan. While she supports the spirit of what’s proposed, she voiced concerns about the cost.

“This number seems quite high, based on what we're doing. When I did the math … the number looks like it's somewhere between $31 to $95 per response, which seems quite high to me,” she said. “And so, I suppose I would prefer other methods that do naturally emphasize the demographics that we're trying to reach. Because I think this doesn't seem dissimilar enough to me to what we've done in the past to warrant the price tag.”

Coun. Ruby Campbell supported the engagement plan proposed by staff but stressed the need to ensure renters in multi-unit buildings (not landlords) and business operators (not property owners) are asked to complete the surveys. She also wants the city connects with organizations like tenants’ unions, the chamber of commerce and business improvement associations, so they can alert their members about the survey.

As part of the 2024 budget, the city engaged with residents via an online survey on Be Heard New West, as well as some virtual and in-person workshops. The city did not hire a firm to conduct a survey.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine supports efforts to get input from up to 10,000 residents through a survey.

“That’s actually a very healthy size,” he said. “That at least guarantees that 10,000 people, in addition to all the other work that we're going to be doing, will have the opportunity to provide feedback to council. Notwithstanding the fact that the response rates are relatively low.”

Fontaine said council has approved what he considers to be “some questionable expenditures” during his time as a councillor, but he has no trouble supporting a $35,000 budget enhancement that allows the city to hire Ipsos.

“To me, investing in and asking our citizens and our local businesses about what their priorities are for budget 2025 fits right with our core mandate,” he said. “That's exactly what we should be doing, and that's where we should be investing some funds to make sure that people do get listened to.”

The city's 2024 budget reflected a 7.7 per cent property tax increase.