Richmond is a great place to live — if you live in the right City Council district, don't go out much on the roads or at night, and don't live south of the James River or in the East End.
Those are the not-so-surprising conclusions of a surprisingly easy-to-read report released Sept. 2 by the city auditor's office. The audit is intended to be a resident-friendly report card that will serve as the baseline for future reports on overall satisfaction and government efficiency.
“It improves the transactions of government and holds the government accountable,” says Richmond auditor Umesh Dalal, citing the general public as the intended reader of the report, which uses a public survey and city agency performance and budget reviews to analyze satisfaction.
“These are things — what affects the common Joe on a daily basis,” Dalal says. “This has never been done before [in Richmond]; everyone talks about principles, but nobody asks what the common Joe is going through.”
The objective, he says, is also “to clean this place up.”
Overall, the report found 72 percent of Richmonders found life “good and excellent” while 28 percent graded the city “poor and fair,” though the cost to achieve such good grades is expensive. The city spends 25 percent more per capita — $160 million citywide — than any similar jurisdiction in the state.
On its surface, that sounds good, which is why Dalal's office pulled back the layers of the onion a bit and found some areas of the city crying for attention. In particular, the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th City Council districts were far less satisfied — often dissatisfied — than their North Side and West End neighbors.
Quality of life didn't necessarily equate to happiness with the government's efficiency in achieving all those pleasant vibes washing over the West End.
“Here's the million-dollar question: Does spending result in better service?” Dalal says. “People say not.”
In fact, at a rate of 56 percent people said no. Thirty-six percent of residents say they are willing to pay more taxes for better services, or lose services to pay less taxes.
But while most Richmonders found room for improvement, there is also an encouraging sense of optimism, Dalal says, citing the report's finding that 81 percent of Richmonders believe the city is going in the right direction.
In addition to crime, the report focuses on five major issues: transportation, environmental quality, downtown redevelopment, arts and cultural development, and neighborhood revitalization. For more information and a copy of the audit, visit www.styleweekly.com.