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Editorial: Room for improvement on city survey

Not so fast, Salisbury.
City officials were almost giddy Tuesday with the results of their recent citizen survey, which showed residents being more satisfied than they were five years ago in 12 key areas.
Among the 345 people who answered a written survey mailed to them, items such as sidewalks, inclusiveness, zoning regulations, parks, streets, arts, affordable housing, trash collection and public safety all showed improvement.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson joked that Dr. Greg Adams, whose Nth-Degree Analytics firm conducted the survey, should return in about three months and give the same report, just prior to the Nov. 3 City Council election.
But there was some spin connected to the survey report. The glass-is-half-empty part still reveals some areas for concern, especially with city streets.
A key item highlighted in the 2009 survey showed a 14 percent improvement in citizens’ satisfaction with the quality of streets. In 2004, 25 percent of the respondents considered Salisbury’s streets good or excellent, and that bumped up to 39 percent this year.
On the same question, however, 61 percent of the citizens labeled the quality of Salisbury streets as only fair (31 percent) or poor (30 percent).
Salisbury actually lags behind Charlotte (41 percent to 39 percent) in citizens’ satisfaction with their streets.
Adams took note. One of his main recommendations to council was to continue efforts to improve streets, though City Manager David Treme’s budget message this spring wasn’t encouraging.
Because of the continuing recession, state Powell Bill funds ó the monies cities depend on for local street maintenance ó will be down significantly. Meanwhile, the city has seen increases in the cost of concrete and asphalt, Treme said.
“We will not be able to pave as much as in past years,” Treme’s budget message said. Instead the Street Division will be focusing on projects “less material-intensive and more labor-intensive, including working on repairing sidewalks within the central business district,” Treme said.
So in a city where more than 60 percent of the citizens think the condition of streets is only fair or poor, less time and money will be going into making the streets better.
Elsewhere in the survey, Adams reported that sidewalks represented the area showing the most improvement from 2004 ó a 20 percent increase in satisfaction. Some 47 percent of the respondents considered Salisbury sidewalks as excellent or good.
But 47 percent also consider sidewalks in either fair or poor condition. Again, it’s how you present the data.
There are other red flags contained in the citizen survey:
– 35 percent said they were somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the city’s water-sewer rates.
– 37 percent said they disagreed or strongly disagreed that the local economy is doing better than the national average.
– 40 percent judged the roadside appearance of streets as only fair or poor.
City officials deserve credit for wanting to know what citizens think. As Treme said Tuesday, the most important measure for city government is “how citizens feel about the level and kind of service we provide.”
The survey news was good, but it also should remind City Council that things can always be better.

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