Survey: city does good job
By MARY L. GRADY
Mercer Island Reporter Editor
August 20, 2012 · 12:58 PM
The city received a good report card from citizens who responded to a recent telephone survey about the quality and quantity of city services.
On the whole, the city received high marks from Islanders.
“The survey shows that people continue to be very satisfied with the services provided by the city,” said Rich Conrad, city manager.
City staff say that the survey was perhaps the best way to determine what kinds of services residents want, what concerns they may have and any information gaps that may exist between the city and residents.
Most importantly, it is a way to help the City Council decide how to build the city’s biennial budget based on what Islanders say they want and need — and whether or not they are willing to pay more for continuing some services or adding new ones.
The city budgeted $12,500 for the current survey, a few thousand dollars less than in 2010, to help the city balance the budget. EMC Research conducted the survey by writing the questions, sampling the Island population and calling 300 residents, and conducting the analysis on results. One hundred fewer homes were called this year because there were fewer dollars allotted to the survey. The smaller sample size resulted in a slight increase in the margin of error for the results, from 4.9 percent to 5.7 percent. The last telephone surveys were done in 2010 and 2008.
Overall, the survey, conducted from June 24 through June 28, showed that generally residents are satisfied with the level and performance of city services. According to the City Council information provided, the city uses the information to determine areas of concern for residents, determine topics where residents need more information or to help decide how to allocate city budget dollars.
“We believe that the budget still needs to be a bit leaner, but the survey seems to say that Islanders believe the level of services is about right,” Conrad said. “We will not be adding any new services without asking the public if they want to pay for it.”
Possibly the most welcome result for city officials is the fact that more than 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that the city is generally going in the right direction — up six percentage points more than in 2008.
Respondents indicated that the most important issue facing the community today is education/school funding, with 29 percent putting that first overall. The next most important issue was traffic/transportation, with 14 percent who answered that it is a top issue, followed by 11 percent who answered that they did not think there is a topic of highest concern.
A surprising one-quarter of respondents said that the city did “only fair” in promoting traffic safety. Road maintenance also did not fare well.
“We need to work harder on transportation,” Conrad noted. “People want us to do more and do it better. “
Islanders are split on their view of the City Council. Half of all respondents indicated that they held a strongly favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of the City Council. Thirty-one percent said that they held a somewhat unfavorable or strongly unfavorable opinion of the body. Twenty percent did not have an opinion.
The city’s Parks and Recreation department, police and fire departments are perceived favorably by 88, 86 and 94 percent of respondents, respectively. The city’s Youth and Family Services department was viewed favorably by 71 percent of respondents, but 24 percent had no opinion or did not know about the department.
Just under half of all respondents indicated that the city is doing a good or excellent job of using tax dollars wisely — down from 56 percent in 2008. But, 14 percent said the city is doing a poor job of using tax dollars wisely.
Respondents were generally favorable, however, in rating the job that the city does in maintaining parks, trails, open space, streets, sidewalks and paths, providing recreation activities and protecting the environment. Two-thirds or more of respondents rated the city’s services in each of those areas as “good” to “excellent.” Eighty percent said fire and medical aid response is good to excellent.
Conversely, lower marks were given for the city’s preparing for a natural disaster such as an earthquake or windstorm. In that category, just 50 percent indicated that the city is doing a good to excellent job. Just 19 percent said it is “only fair,” and 26 percent said they did not know.
More than 80 percent or more indicated that the city is doing a good to excellent job preventing crime and protecting the community. Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated they felt very or completely safe walking in their own neighborhood, and just slightly less safe walking in the town center. One-third of respondents indicated that they are “mostly unprepared” for a disaster that would require them to be able to be on their own for seven days. Ten percent said they are completely unprepared — the same results seen in 2008 and 2010.
Those who responded to the survey were generally older homeowners without children at home. Eighty-five percent owned their home; 80 percent of respondents were 45 years or older, with more than half of those respondents older than 60. Nearly two-thirds of respondents did not have any children at home.
Fewer Islanders said that they would be willing to pay more taxes to maintain city services at current levels than in past years. In the most current survey, 41 percent said they would be willing to pay more if needed, down from 49 percent in 2008 but up slightly from 39 percent in 2010. In the recent survey, 47 percent said that if more funds were needed, the city should make up the difference with cuts. That number is up from just 39 percent in 2008.
Learn more online
Learn more about the survey by visiting the City of Mercer Island’s website at www.mercergov.org.
Contact Mercer Island Reporter Editor Mary L. Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 232-1215 ext. 1050.