ason Metten, city administrator, said Friday that Platte City officials and staff are grateful for the largely positive results of its community survey and will strive to maintain and exceed this year’s levels.
Conducted by Olathe-based market research firm, ETC Institute, the survey solicited local opinions via telephone and revealed that Platte City residents’ overall satisfaction with city services not only surpasses that of Kansas City metropolitan residents, but nationwide averages as well on eight out of nine categories.
The survey of Platte City residents is conducted once every two years.
At least three-quarters of survey respondents said that they were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the quality of police services, customer service from city staff, water, sewer and trash utilities and the maintenance of city streets and holdings. At the next level, between 65% and 73% of those surveyed ranked parks and recreation, ordinance enforcement, communication, storm-water management and traffic flow to be satisfactory at minimum. Data from similar surveys conducted in 2000, 2006 and 2008 additionally show that in every category, these percentages hit an all-time high in 2010.
As far as city improvements were concerned, in a forced ranking series of questions in which survey takers were asked to prioritize a list of city amenities according to which should receive the most emphasis in the next two years, 21% chose “maintenance of city streets, buildings and facilities” as their first choice. Other items that garnered over 10 percent of the vote included “overall quality of city parks and recreation programs and facilities” (14.5%, or 29 people) and “overall quality of police services” (12%, or 24 people). It should also be noted that 28 respondents (14%) skipped the question entirely.
Under the heading of maintenance of city streets, buildings and facilities, 12% of those who responded rated themselves as either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with city sidewalk conditions. A three-way tie at 11% also cited street maintenance, downtown preservation and responsiveness to service requests as areas of dissatisfaction among survey respondents.
With current work on Fourth Street putting a wrap on a long stint of city-wide capital improvement projects targeting streets and sewers, city administrator Jason Metten said he was “somewhat surprised” at the survey’s showings for street investment.
“The focus for about the last 15 years has been on a comprehensive capital improvements program,” said Metten. “We went from a position of some pretty great road and storm challenges to having every street up to a modern standard.”
“(Now), most of the road projects you see will be operations and maintenance instead of true capital improvements projects,” he said.
At 73%, the “satisfaction with parks and recreation facilities and programs” category was outpaced only slightly by Kansas City metro rankings (75%) and was tagged by respondents later in the survey as the second of three top items where the city should place its focus in the coming years. Residents who took the survey said they were either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the city swimming pool (22%), recreational programming and events (19.5%) and adult athletic programs (18%). Nearly 30% also cited the pool, park maintenance and number of trails as items that should receive emphasis in the next two years.
Nonetheless, the survey showed that overall satisfaction with parks and recreation in Platte City has risen by 24% over the past decade.
On questions regarding public safety, 90% of survey respondents (excluding those who answered “don’t know”) described themselves as either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the overall quality of police protection–a jump of 11% since 2000 and 8% since 2008.
“Platte City has always had quality police protection and I think the introduction of a community policing model as well as Chief Carl Mitchell has lent an air of approachability to the police department,” said Metten. “We first of all introduced the beat system and we have the residential beat, the commercial beat with additional beat meetings and additional opportunities for citizen participation. Generally the design and make-up of the police department has changed to include community and that’s something I was looking for–and something we found–in Chief Mitchell.”
Meanwhile in public safety, rankings of “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” totaled less than five percent in categories including police visibility in neighborhoods and retail areas, crime prevention efforts, local law enforcement, fire and ambulance service and response time. Quality of animal control, however, fell in at a dissatisfaction rate of just over 20% and was ranked by nearly a third of survey takers as a public safety item that should receive emphasis over the next two years.
As for the future of Platte City, the survey showed extremely mixed results (15% very supportive, 32% somewhat supportive, 29% not supportive and 24% not sure) toward the idea issuing bonds to be used in developing 800 acres east of Interstate 29.
Respondents indicated that they purchase most of their furniture, sporting goods, appliances, electronics, books, music, clothing and cars in towns other than Platte City and that they would be most welcoming of new restauranteurs, clothiers or grocers.
Of its newer residents, over 90% ranked the small town atmosphere, affordability, low crime rate and quality of education among their own reasons for moving to Platte City. Finally, 92% claimed to be satisfied with quality of life in Platte City (7% were neutral).
But can 200 people–or roughly four percent of the population–really speak for the whole town?
Karen Falk, a vice president of ETC Institute, said the survey is a statistically valid random sampling which carries a 95% confidence level and a margin of error of 6.5%. This means, said Falk, that “if we did this survey 100 times within the city with a different random sample, 95% of the time, the results will come back within this margin of error,” or in other words, with scores ranging no more than 6.5 percentage points away from the original numbers.
Falk also emphasized that one of the ways the research firm ensures accuracy is to check that the survey’s percentages of demographic variables, such as age and years of residency in Platte City, are similar to the city’s census-based demographics.
“What the sampling allows us to do is make an interpretation for the entire community based on the sampling of the few,” said Falk. “The city has no control over the results, which tells you that they genuinely wish to make decisions based on the opinions of that silent majority that won’t necessarily show up at City Hall.”
Metten affirmed that the city will use the results of the survey in future planning.
“While it is scientific and it is as accurate as any statistical effort of this kind, it’s definitely not all inclusive and 100% reflective,” he said. “This is but one tool of many that we use to help advise the elected officials to set the course of the city or to maintain the course. Always, no matter what–even if it came back 100% on everything–you can do better. I think this will be one of the things that (city officials) will use when deciding which way to move and how we spend the precious resources we have.”
In an e-mail to city staffers and the board of aldermen, Mayor Frank Offutt expressed his pride regarding, among other things, a 7% rise since 2008 in the overall image of the city, a 15% rise in respondents’ satisfaction with the value received for their tax dollars and a 9% rise in quality of life ratings.
“These improvements could not have been accomplished without a dedicated staff,” wrote the mayor.
“When you get your report card at end of the day, you hope you did good,” he added in a later interview. “If you can get 90% of the people to agree, that’s significant.”