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Tacoma: Citizen survey shows general improvement

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Oct. 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
October 26, 2010 4:23 pm

Most respondents like their city and neighborhood as a place to live, and most hold favorable feelings about Tacoma’s overall quality of life.

But drugs, crime, job opportunities, gangs, street conditions and vandalism remain or are now viewed as moderate or major problems by at least 8 out of every 10 people polled here.

These findings are but a fraction of the results from the 2010 Tacoma Citizen Survey, dubbed by consultants as a “consumer report card” for Tacoma’s quality of life, community amenities and local government services.

From the very detailed to the very general, results from the city’s first citizen survey in four years are intended as a planning tool for city employees and policy-makers.

In all, the city received back 3,024 completed surveys from 9,093 randomly sent to households in August. And overall, the 2010 ratings of Tacoma’s characteristics and services fared better than those from the last citizen survey in 2006.

Despite the dour economy, Mayor Marilyn Strickland noted, “we had pretty good results.”

City Manager Eric Anderson added the results should not be shrugged off, but viewed as a conversation starter for city council members and officials, who can now drill down into the survey data to help the city plan, prioritize and budget for the future.

“This isn’t intended to be a report that drops on the desk,” Anderson said.

Among the survey’s results, exactly half of city services examined — 17 of 34 — drew “good” or “excellent” ratings by half or more respondents. Fire services (90 percent favorable) and emergency medical services (87 percent) rated the highest, with sidewalk maintenance (28 percent) and street repair (19 percent) coming in lowest.

Ratings for 17 of the 34 city services analyzed also showed improvement in overall favorable ratings from 2006, while just three drew worse results (snow removal, bus and transit services and information received from the city).

City employees drew high marks, but “public trust” ratings toward government and elected officials generally garnered neutral or unfavorable responses.

“These ratings are always lower than service ratings,” noted Erin Caldwell, senior research associate for the National Research Center of Boulder, Colo. that conducted the survey.

Forty nine percent of respondents said city government welcomes citizen involvement and 38 percent said they get good value for the taxes – both up from the last survey.

Forty six percent said they were pleased with the city’s overall direction, 38 percent felt well-informed on city issues and 35 percent responded that government operates for the benefit of all people – all down from 2006.

Meanwhile, responses to the statement: “Most Tacoma elected officials care what people like me think,” remained unchanged at 33 percent.

When compared to other surveys across the nation, navel-gazing Tacoma generally has a lesser opinion of itself. Just 31 percent of respondents rated the city’s overall image or reputation favorably, “much below” national comparisons, the survey found.

Overall, Tacoma’s survey results are generally on par with those from other cities nationwide.

“These numbers are fairly consistent with the national average,” city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said.

The city paid $47,241 for the 2010 survey, down from $60,000 paid in 2006.

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