Streets, crime prevention listed as priorities in Columbia resident survey

Saturday, June 11, 2011 | 4:15 p.m. CDT; updated 11:58 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

COLUMBIA — Nearly 60 percent of Columbia residents are dissatisfied with the condition of city streets, and 70 percent are satisfied with how safe they feel in their neighborhoods at night, according to a survey conducted for the city by independent consultants.

About 800 residents responded to the random survey, and overall satisfaction was evenly distributed across all geographic areas. Surveys were conducted by mail and phone in April and May of this year. The survey cost $25,000, Public Communications Director Toni Messina said.

More survey findings

Comparing 2007 data to 2011 data, here are other interesting survey findings:

  • Satisfaction with customer service received from city employees decreased from 77 percent 67 percent.

  • Satisfaction with drop-off recycling increased from 78 percent to 84 percent.

  • Satisfaction with the city's storm water runoff system decreased from 55 percent to 48 percent. Dissatisfaction was at 21 percent.

  • Satisfaction with city government as a trusted source of information increased from 63 percent to 71 percent.

  • Satisfaction that city information is communicated clearly, accurately and in a form that meets the needs of residents increased from 51 percent to 58 percent.

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ETC Institute, a market research firm based in Olathe, Kan., has conducted surveys for Columbia in 2003, 2005 and 2007, and does similar surveys nationwide.

Among other findings this year, Columbia residents' overall level of satisfaction with city services was 23 points higher than the U.S. average and 24 points higher than the average of 60 cities across Missouri and Kansas, according to city documents.

However, the overall level of satisfaction is down from 2007. This mirrors a national trend, said Karen Faulk, vice president of ETC Institute.

The largest percentages of residents indicated public safety services, city utility services and condition of city streets as the most important services the city provides. Survey discussions at the Columbia City Council retreat Friday mainly revolved around perceptions of city street conditions and maintenance, and public safety.

Overall satisfaction with city streets dropped from 28 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2011. This lags the national average and the Missouri-Kansas average in eight of the categories measured. City street dissatisfaction was at 57 percent.

Although snow-removal satisfaction on major city streets rose 8 points since 2007, the satisfaction level of snow removal on city streets is at 59 percent. Twenty-two percent of residents are satisfied with snow removal on neighborhood streets.

Mayor Bob McDavid said the results might be skewed because the survey followed a winter of tremendous snowfall.

Faulk said all the satisfaction ratings in the survey reflect public perception and are not necessarily reflective of facts.

Overall satisfaction with the quality of pubic safety services dropped from 84 percent in 2007 to 81 percent in 2011. Notably, the satisfaction with the feeling of safety in the city dropped 8 points since the 2007 survey.

Columbia Police Department Chief Ken Burton said that though the city's population has increased during the past 10 years, crime rates have remained flat.

McDavid said election campaigns and highly publicized incidents of crime could lead to public perceptions that the city is unsafe. He mentioned the YouTube video of a 2010 SWAT raid that went viral after it was first published by the Columbia Daily Tribune. Public debate concerning downtown surveillance cameras and license plate cameras might also have influenced results, he said.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony said the decline in positive perceptions of public safety might be because several council members have campaigned recently on platforms of public safety and placed it at the forefront of people's minds.

Faulk said based on the many other surveys she's conducted nationally, no matter the public safety satisfaction, people will always rank it as one of the most important issues.

Dissatisfaction at any given question shouldn’t be more than 20 percent, or one in five residents, she said.

The purpose of the survey is to objectively assess delivery of city services and to hear the “silent majority” that wouldn’t otherwise speak up, Faulk said. Survey results should help city leaders gauge where residents’ priorities lie, so they can prioritize budgeting, she said.

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Dave Overfelt June 12, 2011 | 9:06 a.m.

Greater effort should be made to make this survey statistically significant. At $25k, we ought to be able to get an appropriate representative poll of Columbia. Furthermore, in all the articles regarding the survey, there has been no mention of its apparent lack of significance. Weakness.

(Report Comment)
Dave Overfelt June 12, 2011 | 9:13 a.m.

The survey looks a lot better when you look at the company's report. I was thrown by the "800 residents responded to the random survey"... which has a very different meaning from saying a representative sample of 800 residents responded.

(Report Comment)

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