by Valerie Verkamp
Rather than just throwing caution to the wind, city officials continue to deploy a tried-and-true method to gauge public opinions and sentiment about city government programs and services.
Platte City surveyed its residents this past summer to gain public input on a broad spectrum of issues including future economic development, parks and recreation and city communication. About 1,600 surveys were mailed out to everyone with an active Platte City residential utility account. The city received 305 responses, which provides a 95% confidence interval on a 5.6% margin of error.
“This return amount, confidence level and margin of error are considered to provide a statistically significant survey result for our sample size,” said DJ Gehrt, city administrator.
Platte City has used community surveys to take the pulse of the community every other year since 2000. The survey was conducted on even years from 2000 to 2012, but was switched to odd years starting with the 2015 survey. It is conducted by the ETC Institute of Olathe, Kan.
“The most important reason to conduct the survey is to provide residents an opportunity to improve city services,” said Gehrt. “It is very easy for any organization to look in the mirror and congratulate itself on what it sees. It is much more important to hear from our residents to get their opinion on what they see. Having that broad outside perspective and feedback is the outside reality check that all public entities need on a regular basis.”
The survey comes at a time of growing support for new economic development, especially for full-service restaurants, grocery stores and clothing retailers.
According to the survey results, public perception of Platte City remains high compared to data from 2000 and 2015.
“Platte City is performing significantly better compared to regional and national averages with regards to items that influence resident’s perception of a city,” the ETC Institute stated.
Seventy-seven percent of respondents indicated that the overall quality of city services are “excellent” or “good.”
Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated that the overall quality of life in the city is “excellent” or “good.”
The broad categories of city services that had the highest levels of satisfaction were customer service received from city employees, quality of utilities and law enforcement services.
“The police department has greatly increased its effort to be visible in the community and in neighborhoods through partnerships with the Platte County R-3 School District. From monthly blue plate lunches and middle school dances to National Night Out Against Crime events and community outreach meetings for multi-family complexes, law enforcement officers are fully integrated into the community. These efforts have played a part in residents giving higher satisfaction scores to the police department over the past three surveys,” said Gehrt.
The ETC Institute compared services of high importance with low satisfaction to identify what services the city ought to reprioritize. Their recommendation was to focus on the overall flow of traffic on city streets and maintenance of city streets, buildings and facilities.
Animal control was also identified as a service of high importance, but received the lowest level of satisfaction. Dogs running at large and elevated population of stray cats could be factors affecting the citizen sentiment of this aspect of public safety. These findings indicated this is a service with needed improvement.
As a means to identify why folks are drawn to live in Platte City, citizens were asked to rate 14-leading factors that potentially attracted them to take up residence in this town of about 4,870. Low crime rate, overall beauty of the city and affordability of the community were the more significant reasons for deciding to move to Platte City.
Low crime rate, small-town atmosphere and affordability were provided as the three leading reasons why citizens continue to live in Platte City. Thirty-two percent of respondents have lived in Platte City for 20 or more years.
Seventy-two percent of the respondents own their residence, while 28 percent rent property. The land areas with the highest population density were both south of Highway 92 either west of 4th or east of 4th Street.
To guide city officials on tough political and fiscal decisions on the budget, policy and economic development, respondents were also asked to state their household income and how frequently they purchased goods in Platte City. “Sporting goods (91%, furniture (87%), books and music (85%), and appliances and electronics (85%) were the items that received the highest percentage of “almost none” responses,” the institute stated.
Instead, respondents revealed they would like to see development or expansion of full-service restaurants, groceries and household goods, and retail clothing.
Thirty-four percent of respondents have a total annual income of $60,000-$99,999. Twenty-seven percent report an annual household income above $100,000 and fifteen percent under $30,000.
Residents were also asked their opinion on the quality of the city’s park and recreation services. Maintenance of city parks, outdoor athletic fields and youth athletic programs received the highest level of satisfaction with parks and recreations services, according to the survey results.
To better gauge community values and priorities, cities, school districts and organizations are turning to citizen surveys. Unlike a public hearing or city council meeting, respondents can share their perspective at a time of convenience and anonymously. Participants won’t have to worry their comments will upset a crowd or outspoken individual with an agenda.
“Having a much wider resident perspective on what the city is doing well, where it can improve and areas of focus, are extremely important to how the board and staff uses the resources provided by the residents,” said Gehrt.
Once the survey is completed, city officials often use the results as a guiding tool for forming a better community. Ideally, one that priorities the values and opinions of a wider-scope of citizen sentiment. Surveys taken every other year can also track trends and changes in community values and priorities.
“The surveys provide a valuable role in offering a broad range of residents with an opportunity to let the city know how they feel about various city services,” said Gehrt. “In the short term, the results are immediately incorporated into the focus of the city’s line departments. As an example, if there is a decline in the level of satisfaction with snow removal, public works makes sure that snow removal training and operations are more carefully reviewed and implemented during the next snow season.”
Answers to certain questions can also impact the way city officials communicate. For example, respondents were asked if anyone in their household regularly reads the information sheet included in their monthly utility bill. Residents overwhelmingly said “yes.” Two-hundred-forty-six respondents said it was their preferred method of receiving information about programs and services offered from the city.
Although the budget impact of the survey is not immediate, it does have a sizable impact on the next few budget cycles. City officials will use the information from the 2017 survey as a tool to prioritize programs and their funding for the next two year’s budget cycles.
“The city’s major programs and projects over the past four years are examples of how the survey results are incorporated into both city operations and city budget priorities. The 2012 and 2015 surveys both indicated that residents most significant priorities were city streets, traffic flow, police in the neighborhoods, planning for growth, condition of downtown and conditions of city facilities,” said Gehrt.
City officials responded to those priorities with major street and traffic flow projects, including the new intersection at Kentucky Avenue and 92 Highway and extending Kentucky Avenue to Fourth Street to improve eastbound and westbound traffic flow, he said.
“Although less visible, the concerns about planning for growth have directly spurred the increase in city planning efforts since 2014, including the Highway 92 Corridor Study, the exit 19 improvement review (with MoDOT), the nearly complete East Side Master Plan project and the review and update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan,” said Gehrt.
Survey results have also told city officials to invest additional funds to improve the downtown area. That led the city to allocate additional funding for more downtown events, funding for the Downtown Revitalization Matching Grant program and increased emphasis on downtown maintenance.
The last two surveys have been strong indicators that residents would support projects to improve city facilities.
“Addressing these issues is a long term project, but has started with a Phase I facility study in 2014, a city facility survey in the fall of 2017 and funding for a Phase II facility alternative development in the budget starting Nov. 1 of this year,” said Gehrt.
The 90-page survey report can be read in its entirety online at http://www.plattecity.org/docview.aspx?doctype=fd&docid=26571