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Sun City Center seniors tackle survey to define their future community

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Both the consultant and CA directors have indicated they anticipate tabulation of survey results in August and early September.

By MELODY JAMESON

SUN CITY CENTER – Residents here – all 10,300 or so of them – soon will have opportunity to put pencil to paper and help re-design parts of their community.

A professionally prepared, comprehensive survey, evolving solely from opinions expressed by residents themselves, is being mailed with first class postage to each of them this month, whether they are still in town or summering in another state.

Their confidential responses, tabulated by a team of impartial university researchers, are expected to become their directions to the community’s elected leadership regarding future capital improvements.

And those directions are foreseen as the focal point of a community town hall later in the year, leading possibly to a referendum vote on long range plans by the Community Association membership as the year ends.

The six to eight month study is being conducted by Erika Matulich, PhD, a marketing research professor at the University of Tampa and a business consultant with some 20 years of experience, including with other active retirement communities.  She recently wrapped up an assignment in Kings Point.   

The SCC study was set in motion by CA board directors after residents in February emphatically turned down a leadership proposal to refresh the community’s central campus – some of it dating back 40-plus years – with a pair of new structures to expand meeting/entertainment space and to relieve business office overcrowding, along with adding a café and a few other updating features. The $3 million plan was to have involved a low-interest bank loan repaid over 10 years with revenues accruing from re-sales of SCC homes to incoming first-time buyers and locals buying multiple homes as investment properties.

CA members readily agreed to increasing the one-time resale fee from $1,200 to $1,500, but balked at using a bank loan as an immediate financing mechanism in order to capitalize on lower loan rates and falling construction costs triggered by a national recession.

While CA directors engaged Matulich and her team to solicit, tabulate and report resident visions of the future community, they have not been privy to results, they told The Observer last week.  Directors have not participated in any of the consultant’s discussions with residents, have not seen the survey questions, much less had a hand in framing them, and will have no access to any of the responses, Chuck Collett, the board’s vice president said.

Pressed for their understanding of what the process is uncovering as it  progresses, Ed Barnes, board president, said they were aware that 11 focus groups involving 130 or so resident volunteers had been pulled together by the consultant for extensive conversations about community needs and desires.  Beyond that, he added, “it’s been strictly hands off” and details have been managed only by Matulich.

Directors have been advised they eventually could see the finalized survey questions, said David Floyd, board secretary, but only to ensure that they are SCC-centric and do not, for example, relate to Kings Point.

The approach emphasizing confidentiality will continue in connection with collection of survey responses, Matulich has asserted.  Each resident’s survey mailing will include a pre-addressed envelope which will return the answered questions directly to her offices at UT.  Residents also can seal their responses in the envelopes and deposit them in a locked box designated for the purpose in the CA central campus office.  The consultant said she periodically will pick up responses from the box accessible only to the professional team.  Following tabulation, all responses will be stored in a secure facility and destroyed after a year, Matulich added.

CA directors may have no specific or factual knowledge of how resident concerns and objectives now are shaping up, but community buzz indicates most,  if not all, of the focus groups devoted considerable time to talking money;  the CA income streams,  how capital improvements should be underwritten,  and best approaches to covering operating expenses.

Casual conversations around town also point to community communications – particularly between the CA board and residents – as another top topic in the focus groups.

Residents at random suggest that ideas like their library modeled on a Barnes & Noble bookstore, complete with coffee bar and comfortable seating, books and magazines, has much appeal, as does a residents’ “clubhouse,” a sort of senior hang-out with light food and beverage service.

And a pool designated for children would please both grandparents with visiting family and swimming residents sans youngsters in tow, they say.  Then, the technologically attuned call for making buildings WIFI friendly.

They talk, too, about insufficient parking in the community, sometimes acknowledging they understand everyone always wants to park close to public doors, putting those parking spaces in short supply.  Lacking concrete solutions for that problem, residents have wondered aloud if a punch card system, or perhaps cards with dollar amounts pre-loaded, might be answers to complaints about guest fees.  And when it comes to generating monies, they’ve even suggested that selling naming rights to community buildings trump borrowing funds.

What, if any, of this turns up in survey questions, responses – or, ultimately, in the consultant’s report - is not yet known. Matulich said the survey is structured to pin down which amenities are most valued by SCC homeowners, how residents see those features being paid for, and how plans should be communicated to the community.

Both the consultant and CA directors have indicated they anticipate tabulation of survey results in August and early September.

Matulich emphasized the importance of answering every question, including personal ones related to demographic data, in order to produce an accurate picture of community preferences.  Residents who do not use the survey as “ a voting tool,” she noted, should not expect the right to complain later about what is happening in the community.

What directors want, Barnes said, is a “totally independent, unbiased and objective” assessment of community needs as CA members see them in order to look ahead.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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