Consistent with other community surveys conducted by the City, and compared to ratings and trends recorded in 2005 and 2009, residents continue to offer positive and high ratings for City services, programs and staff. Convenient access to information and response times from staff rated similarly to previous years, with high satisfaction levels.
Strategic Research Group (SRG), a Columbus-based survey research firm, was again selected by the City to conduct the community poll. SRG administered the last two surveys on behalf of the City, and publishes trend data in the 2012 report in order to compare resident interests, concerns or issues.
“We’ve conducted many surveys for organizations and communities, but Westerville is consistently one of the most well-liked entities judging by overall responses from survey takers,” said Kristen Heimdal, the lead researcher from SRG. “Residents of Westerville feel particularly proud of and loyal to their community.”
What residents say they like best about Westerville is the “family-friendly” environment, a repeat from 2009. More than 45% selected some variation of the word “family” to describe the community.
Overall satisfaction in the community remains strong, with residents recognizing value in services targeted at public safety, land use and parks and recreation programming. Factors such as family-oriented lifestyle, housing choice, community safety, public services and environmentally responsible choices were among the highest-ranked responses from survey takers.
The City asked residents to rate the quality of infrastructure improvements. Nearly 70% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there have been improvements in the last three years. Further, the South State Street corridor improvements have been noticeable to and highly supported by almost all survey takers (93%).
“These are some of the signs we’re looking for in order to determine whether residents connect this work to promises the City made in 2008 with the income tax restructuring initiative,” said David Collinsworth, Westerville City Manager. “We recognized some major infrastructure improvements were needed to keep Westerville both vibrant and viable, and the realization of those plans is coming into focus for many in the community.”
Residents were also asked to rank issues (multiple choice) in terms of importance. New this year, the City asked for more than one response, providing residents an opportunity to list a first, second and third choice of “most important” issues.
Fiscal management and responsibility was again marked as the most important (also the first choice in 2009), followed by maintaining public safety services. Economic development and job creation, infrastructure and roadway maintenance and reliable and efficient utility services rounded out the top five priority issues among respondents.
While residents indicate they generally feel safe, with overall safety receiving a positive score, the most important safety issues mirrored the 2009 results: routine patrol of residential areas (36%) and maintaining emergency response times (25%).
Traffic issues and its maintenance were again marked as challenges in the community, coming up most often as what residents like least about living in Westerville. A little more than half of respondents also say traffic flows have not improved in the last three years.
While most (68%) residents believe the overall traffic flow on main streets is at least as good as traffic flows in other suburbs, a little more than one quarter of respondents disagree.
Other areas of community life with lower levels of satisfaction appear to be small and are associated with managing housing growth (16% dissatisfaction), managing retail and business growth (24%) and fostering a business friendly environment (14%).
In evaluating the flow of information from the City, residents were again consistent in their choices. They continue to gain information from the suburban newspaper(s) as their top-rated source, although it is declining (56% vs. 70% in 2009). A new City website, launched last November, saw gains in recognition, and was rated by the majority as visually interesting, easy to use and useful.
“We have put a lot of effort into understanding how residents need and want to use technology and information from their local government,” said Collinsworth. “We use the principles of ‘easy-to-access’ and ‘responsive’ across the board, from phone calls and emails to new applications like mobile technologies. We expect to unveil even more this year to make the resident communication experience with the City easy and worthwhile.”
New this year, a section on Strategic Planning and Current Events was added to the survey. These questions were designed to provide specific feedback to issues and questions currently being considered as part of the City’s strategic planning process. The City last formally conducted strategic planning in 2002.
In this section, residents were asked to again rank issues of importance while factoring in the community’s aging population (Census 2010). Emergency services were rated highest, followed by convenient access to health care. Public transportation rated the lowest on the scale.
Other outcomes from the section indicated:
- Job creation and attracting new business were the key responses to how Westerville can/should retain young professionals.
- Maintaining municipal utility services was most important when asked about financial stewardship during an economic downturn.
- Residents view it as very important that the City purchase, develop and preserve available land for parks and open spaces.
- Interest in Uptown Westerville is high; residents want it to remain vibrant because most (nearly 96%) regularly visit, dine, shop or eat there.
Crime was most commonly cited as an issue that, if left unaddressed, would negatively impact life in Westerville. Traffic and too-high taxes followed as areas of potential concern.
Collinsworth says that the information revealed from the survey now goes to work in the development, maintenance and consideration of city services and programs. “We have another view of resident expectations, hopes and desires,” he said. “Council and City staff will now begin the work of plugging in this new information in our planning processes and forging ahead for an even stronger Westerville.”