John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Google Analytics and the Township’s Website

At the April 26, 2021, Newtown Technology and Communications Committee (T&CC) Zoom meeting, several people complained that it was difficult to navigate the township website (www.newtownpa.gov) and find the information they were seeking (listen to the discussion).  

Considering that the website is the main way that the township communicates with residents, it is crucial that its usability be improved. As Peter Drucker, who was arguably the world's greatest management consultant, famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

It just so happens that Google Analytics is one of the best tools available to “measure” the usability of websites – and it’s freely available. All that is required is a Google account and a special code to be inserted in every page, both of which are currently in use by the township.

Should the township periodically run Google Analytics on its website to determine how it is used and where improvements may need to be made? Below, I review the analytics for my website to get an idea of what data is most useful to look at.

Case Study: JohnMackNewtown Website Analytics

I run Google Analytics on my website (www.johnmacknewtown.info) every month. It’s actually done automatically by Google. To access the data, I merely login at which point I’m at the home page. The home page automatically includes charts and tables for different time periods – usually the last 7 or 30 days. To get more specific data, all I need to do is click on the various reports available and set the time period. Easy peasy!

Let’s look at some of these data to get an idea of whether or not they would be useful to have for the township’s website as well. [Spoiler alert! Yes, it would be useful to have at least some of this data for the township website.]

Audience Overview

The Audience Overview is probably the first thing you would look at when running analytics. The following chart shows the Audience View for my website for the month of April 2021.

Audience Overview for April 2021. Shows data regarding users/visitors.

There is much useful information here, including the number of users, sessions, pageviews, and average session duration. About 77% of those sessions resulted in the user navigating away from the site after viewing just one page. This is referred to as the “bounce rate.” I need to improve that number, but it’s nice to know that 14% of visitors were new.

I notice that there was an unusual spike in users on April 28. What was that due to? For the answer see the section “How Do I Acquire Visitors to My Website?” below.

How Many Pages Were Viewed in April?

Probably the most important parameter you want to keep track of is pageviews. A pageview is an instance of an Internet user visiting a particular page on a site. A pageview is recorded whenever a full page of the website is viewed or refreshed. In April 2021, my website recorded 2,092 pageviews.

Of these 1,721 (82%) were “unique” pageviews i.e., pageviews that combine the pageviews from the same person (a user in Google Analytics), on the same page, in the same session. So, if you reload a page or visit a page two or more times before leaving the site, it is counted as one unique pageview.

The average monthly number of pageviews this year (Jan through Apr) is 2,048 (1,334 in Jan, 2,140 in Feb, 2,626 in Mar). Thus, there was a total of 8,148 pageviews in that period compared to 5,174 for the same period in 2020 – a 57% increase! I must be doing something right!

What Were the TOP Pages Viewed?

Google Analytics can show you the Top 10, 25, 100, or whatever pages viewed. The following is a representative table of pageview data.

TOP 10 Pageviews for April 2021. Not all data are shown. *Homepage, **Mostly blog pages, ***Page Not Found – these are from dead links outside the site.

From this I see that 58% of visits to the homepage were “bounces,” which means the visitor had no interaction with the page; i.e., did not click on a link in the page to other pages on the site. For 2021 to date the bounce rate for the homepage was 52%. Obviously, I’d like to improve upon that.

How Do I Acquire Visitors to My Website?

One of the most important pieces of information to gauge a website’s usefulness is the origin of visitors; i.e., referrers such as websites, search engines, etc. The following chart shows the referrers to my website during the month of April, 2021.

Referrals By Day. A referral in Google Analytics happens when one website refers traffic to my site. Essentially, it's a recommendation from one site to another.

You can see that on April 21, patch.com and scoop.it were the major referrers accounting for 88% of referrers, whereas on April 28, surveymonkey.com was a major referrer accounting for 75% of the known referral sites.

What was going on those days? What I know is that on April 21, I posted the article “The Newtown Planning Commission Versus Wawa” on Newtown Patch. That article includes multiple links to the website.

On April 28, my survey “What Should Newtown Spend Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds On?” had a spike in responses (123). That survey also has links to the website. Looking at the Surveymonkey analytics, I see a spike in responses via the Newtown Patch on April 28 (see chart below). These responses most likely came from my Patch article I posted on April 25. But why the spike on April 28? I’m not sure. Perhaps Patch promoted it that day. I bet that if I were more adept at using Google Analytics I could find the answer to that question. I’m just happy to know that Patch helps me get visitors to my website and surveys.

Responses from Patch to COVID-19 Relief Funds Spending Survey.
Data from Surveymonkey analytics.
The Top Referrers for 2021 to Date.

Channels

Google groups traffic sources to websites into 4 “channels”:

  • Direct
  • Referral (see above)
  • Organic Search
  • Social

Google Analytics defines direct traffic as website visits that arrived at a website either by typing the website URL into a browser or through browser bookmarks.

NOTE: Visitors also are directed to my website via links in my email newsletter, which is sent to 650 opt-in subscribers. In April, I sent 5,752 emails, which resulted in 360 clicks – mostly to my website. I’m not sure these are counted among the 663 sessions via the direct channel.

Devices

Another interesting piece of information refers to the devices used to access my website. In April, 2021, 55% of sessions were from desktop computers, 44% from mobile devices (i.e., phones) and 2% from tablets. Interestingly, of the 869 total users in April, a majority (58%) accessed my website via their mobile phones. That means I need to pay close attention to making sure pages are readable via small screens.

When Do Users Visit My Site?

One more piece of data is the number of users by time of day, shown in the chart below. Note that Wednesdays (including April 28) had the highest concentration of users, particularly in the hours between 12 pm and 3 pm. Consequently, I surmise that somehow the Patch article was highlighted at 12 pm that day.

Users By Time of Day, April 1 – 30, 2021

How Does This Apply to Newtown’s Website?

Not all the types of data presented here may help improve the usability of the Newtown Township website. IMHO, the most important questions we need to ask include:

  • how many users visit the site?
  • what are the top 10 or 20 pages viewed?
  • are important pages being viewed?
  • what are the major referral sites?
  • etc.

My hope is that the TC&C can make recommendations to the township regarding what analytics to collect and how often to collect the data. The data must also be analyzed and put into reports that will help the township improve the usability of the website.

Posted on 03 May 2021, 01:48 - Category: Communication



Newtown to Receive $1,936,231* in Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds

Preliminary information related to the recently passed Federal Relief Package was released on Friday, March 12, 2021. It was announced that the 936 million dollars would be shared among local governments in Pennsylvania with populations of less than 50,000. Newtown Township’s allocation of those funds is anticipated to be $1,936,231.

The Township should have ½ of the Township’s funds by June 9, 2021. The State will have it by May 10, 2021 and it has 30 days to distribute to municipalities.  The second half will come before March 11, 2022.  

*UPDATE: On June 29, 2021, Newtown Township recieved $1,024,920.93 from the American COVID Relief Fund. Until it is decided how the money will be spent, the funds will be placed in as special account.

What Can It Be Used For?

This money is not to be used for daily operational costs, but rather one time funding opportunities focusing on capacity building, and infrastructure. The spending window is from 2020 through the end of 2024. The funding may not be used to deposit into pension funds, or to offset revenue resulting from a tax cut through the performance window through December 31, 2024.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, May 10, 2021, the U.S. Treasury released an interim final rule for the American Rescue Plan. Download a fact sheet on the 151 page regulation, which provides guidance about eligible uses of the funds.

The Township can spend these funds on:

  • Response to COVID-19 emergency or negative economic impacts.  This includes, but is not limited to, assistance for households, small businesses, non-profits (including volunteer fire companies whose fundraising may have taken a hit during COVID-19), and aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.
  • Premium pay for essential workers.  Can pay a bonus to workers.  Up to $25K each.  Could be paid in a lump sum as long as you don’t violate $13/hour rule.  Public and private employees.  “Essential workers only”.  Backpay is most likely ok.  Fire Company block grants, police - ok.
  • Lost revenue replacement.  The revenue deficit must be as a direct result of COVID-19, and could apply from 2020 through 2024.  2019 is used as the “base year” with which to compare revenues.  Applies to tax revenue, liquid fuels, etc.
  • Infrastructure investment.  Drinking water, storm water, sewer, broadband hot spots, but you can’t spend it on roads and bridges.  Roads and bridges may come in the fall.
  • Can use for construction for larger meeting space or technology for remote meetings.
  • If Township-owned parks were impacted due to COVID-19 (more use), you could use to repair/maintain them.
  • If you can link the proposed use to an impact caused by COVID-19, then it is most likely a permissible use.

Federal regulations (and maybe State regulations) will initially be issued prior to funds being distributed, but those regs could be modified or refined at any time in the next 3+ years. I'm sure there will be a long line of requests for these funds!

Tell me how YOU would like this money to be spent. TAKE MY SURVEY.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a Newtown Township approved survey. It is solely a survey posted by John Mack acting as a private citizen. You may remain anonymous - your personal information is never revealed without your permission.

Posted on 24 Apr 2021, 01:20 - Category: Finances



Facial Recognition Software is Inherently Racially Biased

Is facial recognition technology coming to a police department near you?

Thanks to Aamir Nayeem for notifying me and the Newtown Township Human Relations Commission about the intended approval by the Bucks County Commissioners of a $25,995 contract with facial recognition technology company Clearview AI to provide assistive technology for law enforcement.

"A simple Google News search for Clearview AI reveals numerous issues with the tool at every turn," says Mr. Nayeem. "Nearly 70 immigrant rights, civil liberties and privacy groups are currently calling on the Department of Homeland Security to 'immediately stop' using [facial recognition] technology (source) amid massive privacy concerns and accusations of racial bias with the software, leading to wrongful arrests."

From an article last year:

Late last month, Detroit Police Chief James Craig suggested the technology the department uses, which was created by DataWorks Plus, isn't always reliable. "If we were just to use the technology by itself, to identify someone, I would say 96 percent of the time it would misidentify," he said in a public meeting, according to Motherboard. From the start of the year through June 22nd, the force used the software 70 times per the department's public data. In all but two of those cases, the person whose image the technology analyzed was Black. 

The Bucks County Commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Bucks County Administration Building, 55 E. Court St., Doylestown. The meeting will be live-streamed on the Bucks County Government Facebook page and archived there for later viewing.The approval is one of the first items on Wednesday's agenda. According to the Bucks County government website's instructions for public access, one can attend the meeting and comment in person, or an email can be sent "on April 21, 2021 between 10:30 and 10:35 am." 

There is a documentary on Netflix ("Coded Bias") on how this kind of software incorporates the prejudices of the white majority - research has shown that facial recognition is very bad at correctly identifying people of color and it's not just because of the color of their skin!

If the use of this technology by the Newtown Township Police Department came up for a vote by Supervisors, I would oppose it!

Posted on 20 Apr 2021, 10:14 - Category: Police



The Future of Newtown Township's Paid Fire Services

Applying BCPC's Fire Services Analysis to Newtown Township

On April 1, 2021, I attended a Zoom meeting hosted by the Bucks County Consortium. At that meeting Evan Stone, Executive Director of the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC), made a presentation titled “The Future of Bucks County Fire Service.” This was actually a summary of the full update report (download the presentation here and the full report here). This post focuses on applying the takeaways from that presentation to Newtown Township.

I recorded a short section from the end of the presentation and the Q&A session in the following podcast:

Mack's Newtown Voice · Future Of Bucks County's Fire Services
Paid Fire Departments

Newtown is only one of six Bucks County Municipalities that has a paid fire department: the Newtown Emergency Services Department (NESD) of 8 full-time fire fighters (see table below).

All of them operate only Monday through Friday and depend on volunteers to fill the gaps on weekends and after hours on weekdays. In Newtown, we have the volunteer Newtown Fire Association (NFA). As is the case with many, if not all, volunteer fire departments, have a problem answering calls and recruiting/retaining members (read “The Volunteer Newtown Fire Association is at a Turning Point”).

FACT: In 2018 there were 38,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania. In 1970 there were 300,000.

This has led Newtown Township Supervisors to do several things, among them:

  1. Implement a Fire Service Agreement between NESD and Newtown Fire Association whereby NESD Chief Glenn Forsythe is now also the Fire Chief of the NFA. Paradoxically, this agreement also cut the Township's yearly funding of NFA from $175,000 to $160,000. 

  2. Apply for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from FEMA. "Our solution," noted Chief Forsythe in the SAFER application, "is to hire 5 additional Firefighters so that we can create 7 day a week coverage with 12 hour shifts and maintain proper rotations. Each position will carry a salary of $67,877.80 and benefits of $57,713.63 which includes FICA/Medicare, Family Medical/Vision/Rx/Dental, Life & Disability Insurance, Worker's Camp, and Pension Contributions."
How Much Does It Cost to Run a Full-Time Fire Department?

It depends.

According to the BCPC, the average cost of a firefighter without benefits is $59,904.00 per year based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other studies. With benefits the cost of a firefighter is estimated to be $78,000.00 per year based on a 40 hour week.

NESD has a staff of 8 full-time firefighters with a 60 hour week. Based on BCPC’s estimate, those firefights should cost the township $117,000 each per year, not including equipment purchases, training, etc. The 2021 budget includes $1,171,225 for NESD salaries, benefits, supplies, and training), which is $146,403 per firefighter!

The SAFER 3-year grant application for $1,883,875.45 is for hiring 5 firefighters at an estimated $125,592 per year per firefighter with benefits included. This is based on an estimated entry-level salary of $67,660 plus $57,713 in benefits.

It should be noted that for an urban “Demand Zone” such as Newtown Township with more than 1,000 resident per square mile, requires a "Minimum Staff to Respond" of 15 firefighters. So, even with a staff of 13 (8 current + 5 new hires with SAFER grant money, if available), Newtown Township would still be short 2 full-time firefighters.

Newtown Township is considered an "Urban Demand Zone" because there are >1,000 residents per square mile.
Where Will the Money Come From?

A SAFER grant (see above) is one option, but it should be noted that Newtown Township has already failed in its first attempt to secure that money.

Some money may come from Newtown Borough. At the February 16, 2021, Board of Supervisors Work Session, the supervisors proposed a possible Intermunicipal Cooperation Agreement for fire services whereby the Township would charge Newtown Borough $300,000 per year for providing fire services between 6 AM and 6 PM, Monday through Friday (read the minutes of that meeting). Negotiations are continuing between the Township and Borough.

The only other option is to raise taxes – specifically a special “fire tax.” A fire tax is levied by some municipalities – including Newtown Township, which currently has a 1.00 mill fire tax. By law, a fire tax cannot exceed 3 mills unless a municipal referendum is passed and only up to 1 mill may be used for salary and benefits, according the BCPC.

BTW, Newtown Township can implement a fire tax up to 4.0 mills because a referendum was approved by voters several years ago to allow it.

Related Content:

Posted on 10 Apr 2021, 01:37 - Category: First Responders



My Email Newsletter Subscribers!

Each month I publish several email newsletters: Newtown News Update (NTNU) and News of Interest to Newtown Area Residents (NOI) and Newtown Township Meeting Notes (NTMN) as needed. NTNU includes in-depth coverage of an issue of topical importance to residents. NOI is a collection of summaries of articles curated from various news and other sources focused on a broader range of topics in the Newtown area. NTMN is designed to keep residents informed about important discussions & decisions made at Board of Supervisors meetings. You can access back issues here. Better yet, become a subscriber!

Subscriber Profile

You don't have to be a Democrat or even a resident of Newtown Township to be a subscriber to my Newtown News Update email newsletter series of publications.

Political Party Affiliation

Of the current 613 subscribers (as of April 4, 2021), I estimate that 83% are Newtown Township residents and almost one-third are Republicans (see chart below). Based on 2017 data that I have, approximately 38% of registered Newtown Township voters are Democrats whereas 42% are Republicans.

The political party affiliation of 63% of subscribers that can be identified from publicly available voter records. This chart is based data related to those subscribers
Age Distribution of Subscribers

Of the current 613 subscribers (as of April 2021), the average age (of the 60% of known age) is 59 years based on voter records. See the age distribution chart below. Based on the voter records I have - which may be a bit old - the average age of registered Newtown Township voters is 53 years.

The age distribution of 60% of subscribers that can be identified from publicly available voter records. This chart is based data related to those subscribers.
Subscriber Growth

On average, about 24 new opt-in subscribers are added every month (see chart below). This number varies depending on how I recruit subscribers. Most new prescribers learn about my email newsletter via surveys that I host. See the list of the current surveys.

On average, about 24 subscribers are added every month.

 

Posted on 04 Apr 2021, 01:44 - Category: Misc



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The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
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