Category 3 - Video Public Service, More Than One Minute
Research/Situation Analysis: As an independent special district, Estero Fire Rescue is similar to a self sustaining business. Unlike a business, however, Estero Fire Rescue must obtain its revenue from property taxes and impact fees. When the 2009 budget year began, vocal residents responded, worried about an increase in their property taxes by the fire district. In an effort to inform the residents, the department met with many residents one-on-one, in small groups and in large meetings to answer any questions and assist with any concerns the upcoming budget would cause. Although the meetings were well attended, many residents still did not understand all the details of the departments finances and what exactly was going to be done. Many residents were downright angry and hostile at the thought of increased taxes during the fiscally challenging times. Multiple phone calls and over 140 emails were received and responded to but the method was tedious and seemed ineffective. After an informal analysis of the comments and concerns from the public, it was decided that a different approach was needed.
The problem was challenging but very clear. A tax increase of 15% would be necessary to sustain the department at its current functioning level and not decrease services. The department also looked to maintain the trust and partnership it had with the community. Since all property taxpayers within the fire district were affected, the department would have to reach as many taxpayers as possible with data and facts that were easily understood. It would also have to be done within a five to seven day window due to an upcoming adoption of the annual budget by the Fire Commissioners. This was made more challenging since many residents were seasonal. A video produced in house would provide the public a visual depiction of the information they needed in a clear, concise format that could be sent to out of state property owners and could be viewed at a time convenient for those not able to make formal meetings.
Objectives: The public needed more information in a format they could relate to and that would reach a larger audience. The target audience was very large; all residents and taxpayers as well as the local businesses within the Estero Fire District or approximately 40,000 people. A strategy would have to be developed to reach as many of these individuals as possible before the new budget was set in place. The objective was simple but challenging ~ convincing residents that raising their taxes up to 15% was a necessary thing. Due to an upcoming Public Hearing, the project also had to be completed within 7 days.
Implementation and Development: It was decided to use video as the medium to reach the maximum number of the target audience. Many of the local communities had their own television channels within their communities that could air the video or, at the very least, the information where to access it on the department’s website. The communities also had list servers where a majority of the residents subscribed to get upcoming events. These list servers could be used to announce an upcoming Fire Board meeting where the initial video presentation would be given, followed up by visits to the individual home owners associations and community events.
Research on the internet of past videos done by government agencies to educate the public of budget constraints uncovered hundreds of productions using ‘scare tactics’~ the reduction of budgets funds leads to less firefighters on the street for resident protection. Although the theory is correct, Estero Fire Rescue took a different approach to educate residents on the financial requirements of the district not only for personnel, equipment and supplies but our legal obligations as well as our financial processes. We wanted our residents to have a full understanding of what the department faced and that we needed to stand together as community to meet the challenges this year and in coming years.
In five days, the Estero Fire Rescue Budget 2009 video was completed. It was presented to the public on September 9, 2009 at an open forum meeting and again on September 14, 2009.
Evaluation: At both meetings, members of the audience were asked about their thoughts and understanding of the departments financial status both before and after the meetings. The comments from the audience after the meeting were positive and what the department had hoped for by creating the video. Although it was not a favorable decision to raise taxes, many members of the public spoke positively during the September 14th meeting after initial airing of the video at the September 9th meeting. Overwhelmingly, the audience felt they had a much better understanding of the challenges faced by the district and, although they did not want an increase in taxes, felt that the district did everything it could to listen to the concerns of the residents.
The video was immediately distributed to the resident and business contacts within the community as well as other emergency providers and the local media with the same positive response. Members of the community as well as other government agencies commented on the effectiveness of the video in its education to the public. Residents made positive public statements in local media as to its impact and how the district handled the budget.
After follow up meetings with several home owners associations, the decrease in comments from the public was a positive indicator. Many residents felt they had a greater understanding of the department and, once again, felt that the department was a partner with the community.
Budget: The only notable output was time spent on shooting and production, amounting to approximately $2,000.00 in personnel costs only. Plans are already on the board for the upcoming budget session to produce another video.