The survey says…

Residents rate county’s quality of life ‘good’

WashCo_logoA recent mail survey asked 1,500 Washington County residents: “What one thing do you like most about living in Washington County?”

Some verbatim answers included: “My city, Stillwater; trails; church; library; St. Croix River; safe low crime; support for the disabled, and very hard to pick just one.”

The 2013 survey results were revealed to the Board of Commissioners Tuesday. On average, those responding rate “overall quality of life” in the county as “good to excellent.”

When asked about potential county problems, public transit arose as “the most problematic issue,”  with an average rating of 55 on a scale of zero to 100. Asked what funding source should pay for possible county transit improvements, “user fees” was the top preference by 36 percent of survey takers. The next preference was state sales tax at 24 percent; state income tax at 13 percent; local sales tax at 10 percent; local property tax at 7 percent, and “none of these” from 10 percent.

Taxes was the most common response when residents were asked the most “serious issue” facing the county. On the other hand, a “strong majority” — 69 percent — of survey takers support the idea of the county financially contributing to economic development.

Asked about health issues of most concern, survey takers chose “overweight adults and children, underage alcohol use, illegal drug use and quality of parenting skills.”
Water quality in lakes and streams and drinking water is the “greatest” environmental concern. The most important park service to survey takers is protecting and managing natural areas. Food concessions in parks is the least important.

Parks, libraries, trails, bikeways and 911 dispatch got the highest ratings for county services. Lowest ratings were for services to veterans, older adults and job seekers. The needs of those groups of people warrants more county study, said District 5 Commissioner Lisa Weik. She added that she’s been contacted about the idea of a “community center for senior adults.” She also noted that many veterans are coming home from war now and may need more county services.

Regarding the county investing in library services, responders said they are most interested in free computer use, tax forms, help from library staff and children’s programs.

Asked what county service information people would like to get from the Internet, the survey offered these choices: parks, garbage and recycling, fees and taxes, getting documents, senior services, road projects, licenses, library resources and property information.

However, a survey taker could also choose none of the above and simply check “Other” and specify what they mean by that. Among the 55 people who marked “Other,” 21 said they have no computer or no Internet access. District 3 Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he was “surprised at how many didn’t have a computer.”

County libraries in the Stillwater area include Marine Library Express, Oakdale Branch, Valley Branch in Lakeland and the Law Library in the County Courthouse. The Stillwater and Bayport Public libraries are city-run and considered as “associates” of the county library system.

Commissioners were interested to learn that among sources people use to get county information, survey takers rated the county newsletter “Staying in Touch” their top source, followed by weekly community newspapers, the county web site — www.co.washington.mn.us — daily newspapers, television, online news, calls to the county, cable programs, meetings, electronic newsletters and lastly, social media.
“Staying in Touch” has decreased publication from quarterly to three times a year, but Weik said the county should consider returning to quarterly notices. District 4 Commissioner Autumn Lehrke asked staff to research costs for additional newsletter mailings.

The survey was done by Colorado-based National Research Center Inc. to help county officials understand residents’ needs and funded with $25,000 in state money. It was mailed to 1,500 randomly chosen households, equally among the five county districts, and 40 percent responded.

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