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Survey says: More Salisbury residents 'satisfied'

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Salisbury citizens see a marked improvement over the past five years in sidewalks, race relations, zoning regulations and parks and recreation, according to a recent citywide survey.
They remain particularly satisfied with city garbage collection.
Dr. Greg Adams of Nth-Degree Analytics said sanitation workers might be the “heroes of the community,” based on the survey results. Salisbury could probably build a statue in their honor, he suggested.
In the survey, conducted in March, 89 percent of citizens who responded said they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the city’s garbage and trash collection.
“They have phenomenal approval,” Adams said. “… We don’t see these numbers elsewhere.”
Nth-Degree Analytics conducted a similar survey on city services in 2004. This year, it had 345 responses to its questionnaire, or a response rate of 27 percent.
Because the company performed a similar survey in 2004, it could note any improvement or slide in how citizens perceived services across a broad spectrum.
The only area in which Salisbury did not see improvement was in a question related to “traffic flow.” Satisfaction with the city’s traffic flow declined by 4 percent.
“I don’t think I’ve lived in a community where those (traffic flow and traffic lights) weren’t complaints,” Adams said.
Otherwise, Salisbury saw improvement in 12 other categories including sidewalks, 20 percent; “community is inclusive,” 15 percent; zoning regulations, 15 percent; Parks and Recreation Department (overall), 14 percent; street quality, 14 percent; “arts are important,” 12 percent; street appearance, 10 percent; responsiveness of city government, 9 percent; Fire Department (overall), 9 percent; “housing is affordable,” 7 percent; trash collection, 5 percent; and Police Department (overall), 3 percent.
Adams recommended the city commit to maintaining the quality it has, improve street conditions, pay attention to traffic flow and continue to address gang problems.
In written comments under the heading of what they liked best, citizens answered “courteous, small-town atmosphere”; “small city but access to everything needed”; “historic districts”; “friendly people”; and “development of strong arts with historical component to draw visitors.”
Things they said were most in need of improvements included “get rid of gangs”; “roads”; “the streets and sidewalks”; “traffic signals (too many intersections need them)”; and “schools, taxes too high for level of service.”
Mayor Susan Kluttz said she was encouraged by a 15 percent improvement in the perception that Salisbury is an inclusive community, given the city initiatives in that regard. In 2004, 41 percent agreed or strongly agreed that Salisbury was an inclusive community.
This year, that number increased to 56 percent.
Kluttz also was heartened by citizens who generally said city employees were courteous.
For the first time this year, the survey asked citizens whether city employees were courteous, whether they were competent, whether they addressed problems in a timely manner and whether they followed up with residents when needed.
Some 68 percent agreed or strongly agreed that city employees were courteous.
More than 50 percent found city employees to be competent and willing to follow up with residents. The survey showed 48 percent of the respondents agreeing that employees addressed problems in a timely manner.
A city workforce goal in recent years, promoted under the title of “Driven to Serve,” has been to improve customer service. Salisbury’s customer service initiative, in fact, has been used as a model for other local governments.
Employees on the front lines who come in contact with citizens every day are doing the best job, City Manager David Treme said. “They really care about what they do,” he said. “You don’t do some of these things if you’re just there to collect a paycheck.”
Treme said he also thinks the city has improved in communicating with citizens through its Web site, Time Warner Cable’s Access 16 station and Public Information Officer Karen Wilkinson, whose job was not in place five years ago.
Treme said half of the people surveyed said they had watched Access 16, the government access television channel, at least once in the past three months.
Adams said one of the great successes seems to be the Parks and Recreation Department.
In 2004, 17 percent of the people surveyed said they were “very satisfied” with the department. This year, that number jumped to 33 percent, and 72 percent overall said they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with Parks and Recreation.
Some departments had lower improvement numbers because they started out with high approvals from 2004, Adams noted.
“The Police Department has held its own in overall public perception,” Adams said.
Adams said a lot of surveys are done poorly, but he classified the one done by his company as truly scientific. Surveys can be used as an important democratic tool, he added.
Treme said the survey results line up with what he thought was happening, but he acknowledged that he had some reservations about conducting the survey during a deep recession year.
“It takes a lot of guts to go out with a survey at this time,” Treme said.

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