May 7, 2009 in Washington Voices

Citizen survey response tepid

City services ‘fair’ in resident ratings
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A city-commissioned survey shows most Spokane Valley residents don’t think they’re getting good value for their tax dollar and don’t think city officials listen well.

The $18,000 study, statistically accurate within 5 percent, found that only 40 percent of Spokane Valley residents feel they get good or excellent service from the city, and only 43 percent feel city officials do a good or excellent job of listening to them.

Just half feel the city government is good at welcoming citizen involvement, and 53 percent feel the city’s “overall direction” is good or excellent.

On the other hand, no more than 20 percent said the city is doing a “poor” job in those areas, while 27 percent to 39 percent rated the city’s performance “fair.”

Deputy City Manager Mike Jackson said “fair” may not be what city officials wanted to hear, but “it’s a positive response.”

The 201 women and 199 men who completed the survey were given five possible responses: excellent, good, fair, poor and “don’t know.” Seven percent to 22 percent of respondents said they didn’t know enough to rate the government’s performance in several broad categories.

Spokane Valley fared better when residents were invited to compare their government’s overall quality of service with that of Spokane County and the state and federal governments. The city got a 63 percent good to excellent rating, compared with 60 percent for Spokane County, 53 percent for the state and 44 percent for the federal government.

Only 36 percent of survey respondents had contact with a city employee in the past year, but 70 percent of those who did came away with a good or excellent impression.

“In some cases, these results are going to lead us to ask more questions and do a little bit more research to find out exactly what they mean,” Jackson said.

He said city officials are confident they are providing good value in comparison with similar-size cities.

“We know that our staffing levels are very low, and we have a commitment to contracting services to the private sector at as low a cost as possible,” Jackson said. “Certainly, we’re very interested in finding out in what regard the community might feel that we’re not providing a high value for their tax dollars.”

The survey report points out that, even if statistics show a city is doing a better job than other cities, it still has a problem if citizens believe its performance is substandard.

Jackson said the survey itself is an indication that Spokane Valley officials are listening.

The National Citizen Survey is a “semi-standardized” survey used by numerous cities across the country. It is conducted by the National Research Center in Boulder, Colo., in collaboration with the International City/County Management Association.

This is the first time Spokane Valley has participated in such a wide-ranging examination of citizen satisfaction, although the city commissioned a limited survey on community development issues in 2004.

“It is a reference document that we can use as we are putting together our budgets and our business plans and doing our long-range planning,” Jackson said.

The survey focuses on government performance, but presents a broader view of the community’s perceptions. Generally, it shows Spokane Valley residents hold their community, if not their government, in high regard.

A whopping 89 percent of residents believe Spokane Valley is at least a good place to live. Thirty-five percent say it’s excellent, and 90 percent would recommend the city as a good place to live. Forty-four percent said they have lived in the city 20 years or longer.

While city officials are pursuing an ambitious plan to renovate the Sprague-Appleway corridor, the survey suggests residents may not see as much need for change.

Only 6 percent of respondents think the city looks bad; 72 percent like what they see. Eighty-one percent think the quality of business and service establishments is good to excellent, and only 2 percent believe their shopping opportunities are inadequate.

However, only 33 percent consider the city’s employment opportunities good to excellent. And only 42 percent are enthusiastic about the community’s cultural activities.

Residents say their recreational, educational and religious opportunities are progressively more bountiful, with good-to-excellent ratings of 64, 72 and 83 percent.

The survey shows 79 percent of respondents have never ridden a bus or attended a meeting of elected officials.

Nearly as many don’t read the city’s “Hot Topic” newsletter (76 percent) or visit the city’s Web site (75 percent). Respondents said they most often get their information about the city from newspapers (47 percent), television and radio (34 percent), and the Internet (16 percent).

Several areas of dissatisfaction stand out in a list of public services. Fifteen percent to 26 percent of the people surveyed have a poor opinion of the city’s land-use regulations, traffic-signal timing, sidewalk maintenance, street repair and snow plowing.

Some points of satisfaction also are apparent. The independent Spokane Valley Fire Department enjoys an 89 percent good-to-excellent rating; police service, provided under a city contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, gets a 73 percent thumbs-up; and water service, delivered by numerous independent districts, is appreciated by 82 percent.

The people who completed the survey described themselves as the kind politicians ignore at their peril. Eighty-three percent said they are registered to vote and voted in the last general election.

John Craig may be contacted at johnc@spokesman.com.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email