While the best-town designations keep piling up — for things as varied as tattoos and outdoor recreation — the people who live here are a lot unhappier.
A recent survey commissioned by City Hall suggests that not everyone is buying Mayor Dwight Jones' rose-colored vision. In a six-page survey sent to 8,500 households, of which 1,371 were returned, 64 percent of residents report some level of satisfaction with the city's overall quality of life, 22 percent are satisfied with the public school system, 48 percent feel safe downtown, and 29 percent think their tax dollars are being spent wisely.
The rest were, well, unsatisfied.
The extensive survey offers dozens of categories and subcategories, but overall numbers appear to be slipping when compared with a similar, albeit smaller survey from two years ago. For instance, 63.7 percent of the 800 or so residents surveyed in 2010 reported being satisfied with the school system — 42 percentage points higher than the 2012 survey.
"When you look at it, it's very sobering," says Councilman Bruce Tyler, who says he's particularly disturbed by a bench-marking appendix with the survey, which finds the city trails the national average in all but three of the 62 categories: place to work, garbage collection and recycling services. For example, 37 percent of residents surveyed are satisfied with the "overall direction your community is headed," compared with a national satisfaction rate of 57 percent, according to the ETC Institute in Olathe, Kan., which the city hired to conduct the survey.
"There is sharp decline in virtually every category of satisfaction," Councilman Marty Jewell says. "We can do better. We must do better."
In fairness, the current and previous surveys have some stark differences. The 2010 survey was conducted for the city auditor's office, by telephone. The recent survey was conducted by mail, and many categories include many respondents who respond "neutral" when it comes to satisfaction.
City Council Vice President Ellen Robertson says it's too soon to truly compare the results — although some of that will come during workshops next year. "I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to really get a full appreciation about where the citizens are."
And it's perhaps encouraging that the city commissioned the survey at all. The plan is to use the results to guide the budgeting process early next year, Robertson says. "This is the first time the administration has done a survey of this quality," she says. "One of the missions is to have this budget be outcome-oriented."
Still, the new survey could portend a long budgeting process. Jewell says the majority of council members, all of whom are up for re-election next month, have been a little too complacent.
"They have given the mayor and his administration a pass with somebody else's money — taxpayer money," he says. "That's not the way to build a world-class, tier-one city."