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At a special National City council meeting held on May 11, members of the public participated in surveys about the city’s finances and services. National City faces a $6.7 million dollar deficit, and the trial survey was in preparation for the new budget that must be passed by July 1.

Responses to survey questions were tabulated with a new electronic voting device known as the “TurningPoint Clicker.” Within seconds of casting a vote with the tool, the system generated a breakdown of the results in the form of bar graphs and percentages on the PowerPoint screen.

Respondents answered 50 questions that began with “In Order to Guide the City Council in Balancing the Budget, I Would: 1. Maintain, 2. Reduce, or 3. Eliminate …,” followed by a particular city service. The questions did not include a monetary cost for the service or a detailed description of them. Instead, attendees had to refer to a packet that listed the city’s services and expenditures, mostly in percentages of the overall budget.

According to the city’s Community Development Commission, National City’s police department receives a major portion of the general budget: 54 percent in 2009, which translates into approximately $21 million. The fire department received 21 percent, with the rest going to community services.

The items that received a majority of votes to “maintain” were:  gang enforcement, graffiti removal, emergency medical response, and fire suppression. Voters were split 50/50 when it came to street maintenance, while 58 percent voted to “reduce” school resources teachers.

Voters took a jab at the council when asked what they would do with city management, legal, and human resources. The response generated a couple claps around the room and laughter, including from the dais, as the results quickly popped up on the screen: 5 percent maintain, 89 percent reduce, and 5 percent eliminate.

Members of the public who addressed the council said they would like to see improvements made to the electronic survey system, such as options to increase budgets, monetary figures for the cost of the services, and the number of employees that would be impacted. In the future, 60 members of the public will get to vote; for trial purposes, only 19 received clickers.

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