Steamboat Springs Routt County asked for advice this fall from the people who pay its bills.
County officials wanted direction as to how and where money should be allocated to health and human services needs.
Health and human services agencies and programs in the county handed out surveys to their clients in September to pinpoint the areas of greatest need.
Another 1,000 surveys were randomly mailed to residents.
A little more than 300 surveys were returned and tabulated.
"We felt it was really timely to have it," Routt County United Way Director Millie Beall said. "We needed to find out how people in the county want us to spend their money."
Fred Caruso of Caruso Group International conducted the survey and headed up community forums in Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Clark and Oak Creek.
What he discovered was a county that places large importance on its social safety net.
"Especially as conditions worsen, it's important to keep this net in good shape," Caruso said.
The survey gave people who might otherwise not speak out a chance to make their voices heard, he said.
Beall said the survey showed respondents want funds directed to needy families.
Such information is invaluable as Routt County United Way begins its allocation process next month, she said.
The results weren't surprising, said Bob White, director of the County Human Services Department.
On a scale of one to 10, the survey asked respondents to rate the importance of such services as prenatal care, preschool and child-care subsidies, mental health, drug and alcohol treatment and hospice care, to the community.
"By and large, folks thought most of these services were important," he said.
But allocation committees struggle to find a fair approach to doling out funds when so much need exists and funds are limited, he said.
The survey forced respondents to prioritize services. They were asked to identify the three most critical services and the one service they would cut.
"Ultimately that's going to be the main value of this survey," he said.
The final question was worded to determine how much is too much. Survey respondents were asked to identify the maximum income level at which a family of four in Routt County should no longer qualify for services.
Under federal guidelines, a family of four can make no more than $32,650 to qualify for federally funded services.
The Colorado average household income is $47,203. The Routt County average household income is $62,400.
County officials wanted respondents to identify what services should be offered to the neediest in the county and what services should be available to the "working poor."
"We didn't survey the mandated services," White said. "Most of what was surveyed were the health and human services that are so important to our community but nobody is required to provide."
Community response likewise gave local governments and funding organizations a barometer of the quality of health and human services in the county.
Routt County United Way facilitated the county's efforts to collect public input.
The last survey was conducted 10 years ago.
Survey participants had a vested interest in health and human services programs and were willing to take the time to answer the questions, Caruso said.
"This is a survey of the people who are in the position to support and/or influence," he said. "They are not unaware of what's going on in the community."
He praised respondents for their fair assessment of community programs. People were able to look beyond their own programs and recognize needs in other areas, he said.
"The participants in this survey all rallied to stated purpose ... 'to ensure that Routt County remains a caring, viable and fiscally responsible community, serving all of its residents in the best possible way,'" Caruso said.
The Human Resource Coalition meets Jan. 21 with Caruso to discuss the results of the survey.