City considering PR firm contract to educate public on safety levy
City Commissioners are considering sending a roughly $10.4 million public safety levy to the November ballot.
The proposal includes a range of needs for police, fire, legal and Municipal Court.
Staff are working on the draft language that they plan to bring before commissioners at the next meeting in March.
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In November, commissioners told staff to release an RFP with a cost range of $50,000 to $150,000 for a third-party consultant to run a public education campaign on the proposed levy.
Doyon told commissioners during their Jan. 17 meeting that the city received one proposal.
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Doyon said they’re considering a consultant since the city doesn’t have public safety associations to advocate for increasing city taxes.
Both police and fire have foundations.
Doyon said the last time the city attempted a public safety levy more than a decade ago, the collective bargaining groups made pitches on behalf of the city, and while there wasn’t anything wrong with it since they’re the employees impacted, it didn’t lead to the level of cooperation and unity the commission is looking for.
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“The public has very high expectations of what we can do as a city and they translate that immediately into their taxes but unfortunately they don’t have the time to figure out how it all works,” Doyon said.
“This isn’t new,” Doyon said. “We’ve had this conversation through the budget process every year that I’ve been here.”
During the Feb. 21 commission work session, The Wendt Agency discussed their proposal with commissioners.
The proposal includes three budget tier options ranging from $50,000 to $150,000.
Commissioner Joe McKenney said he’d hired a public relations agency years ago when he owned Fun Factory Pizza and paid $3,000 for a radio jingle.
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He asked if the basic $50,000 was enough to meet their goals.
Brenda Peterson said that level is bare bones with “not a lot of juice behind it.”
She said that since the city has a short timeframe in educating the public about a November ballot measure, they’d need to be aggressive in outreach.
Commissioner Rick Tryon said it was an “awesome presentation,” but was concerned about the campaign drifting into advocacy and misinformation.
He said that everyone has access to the internet and social media platforms and “they all have the ability to go on and start spreading misinformation.”
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The Wendt team said they recommended a landing website with factual information, a tool kit of information and marketing to direct people to those facts.
The $50,000 budget level from Wendt includes, according to their proposal:
- creative message development
- content development
- presentation, poster, flyer templates
- paid social media campaign
- public relations: key talking points, one press release, one guest editorial, limited organic social posts and one to two speaking engagements.
Tier two at $100,000 would include those tactics plus:
- website landing page
- paid social media: extended campaigns
- two press releases, two guest editorials, two limited organic social posts, one to two radio/tv interviews; speaking engagements and two to three blog posts
- paid digital media
The third tier at $150,000 would include those plus:
- community and event partnerships
- organic storytelling through internal communications
- paid digital advertising
- broadcast and streaming tv placement
- direct mail campaign using precinct data
- video shoot and photography
Mayor Bob Kelly said the presentation was “very professional” and “I don’t pretend to understand how it all works out there.”
He asked City Manger Greg Doyon what staff needed from the commission.
Doyon said he needed to know if commissioners were ready to approve one of the tiers at the next meeting and staff would draft a recommendation.
Commissioners said they were ready to move forward but didn’t indicate which budget tier they preferred.
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The city has several employees whose duties include communications, with the media and the public.
The city also has its own website that was first upgraded in 2011 to a system that allowed city departments to control and maintain their own webpages. That site went live in March 2012, according to city staff.
At that time, the city contracted with aHa Consulting Inc. for a new website and the project was close to $40,000.
In 2016, the city redesigned the website in the hopes of making it more user-friendly with a $9,500 fee to aHa Consulting and the annual hosting fee is $4,200, according to the city clerk’s office.
In 2022, the city spent about $4,000 with the current vendor to assist staff with refreshing the city website.