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Sarasota Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 2 years ago

Sarasota residents happy with quality of life, survey shows

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According to a survey of 800 residents, growth in the county is a big concern, but they're happy with how local officials are handling things.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

The results of the 26th annual Sarasota County Citizen Opinion Survey were presented to the Board of County Commissioners on Aug. 29, and it showed that people say it’s good to live in Sarasota — according to the 800 adult residents who were surveyed over the phone in May.

According to the results, 97% of those surveyed said the quality of life in Sarasota County is either excellent or good. Project director Dr. Susan MacManus, from the Department of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida, said participants were eager to share their ideas.

“The willingness of people in this community to share their opinions are stellar,” she said, receiving laughs from the commissioners. “Over 51% of people [we called] were willing to participate — that is not common, let me assure you.”

Participants were asked questions such as “What’s the most important issue facing Sarasota County?” and “What should county officials be doing to prepare for an economic downturn?”

Most people answered that population growth and new development is the most important issue facing the county, and many indicated they believe that growth management is the most important thing for the county to work on. Another big concern for residents is traffic congestion. 

The survey also showed that participants have confidence in local government. Almost 100% of people surveyed who had contacted the county said they were treated with respect, helped in a timely fashion and given correct information. And a majority of participants said they thought the county’s spending priorities were right.

“The statistics you provide us really say to me the administration and Sarasota County staff have really listened to what the board has set as a goal,” said Commissioner Charles Hines. “Our goal was to be responsive.”

Commissioners will take the information from this survey and use it to make decisions.  

“I have no problem acknowledging that something like this steers policy,” said Chair Paul Caragiulo.  

Summary of the report

Overall quality of life in Sarasota County

  • 47% — Excellent
  • 50% — Good
  • 3% — Fair

The most important issue facing Sarasota County today

  • 23% — Population Growth/New Development
  • 8% — Taxes
  • 5% — Homelessness; Crime; Economy/Jobs
  • 4% — Water; Healthcare; Diversity

MacManus said the concern about population growth is not unusual for an area that, like Sarasota, is experiencing a growth spurt. Additionally, although 15% of participants indicated there are no major issues facing the county, MacManus explained that is typically residents who have higher incomes and more education, who aren’t always exposed to the same types of pressures as other residents. Further, more people are concerned about taxes this year than in the past several years, which she said is also to be expected — as property values go up, so do taxes.

Greatest stress on households

  • 15% — General household finances
  • 10% — Property taxes
  • 8% — Healthcare costs
  • 7% — Taxes in general
  • 5% — Personal debt

For this category, MacManus said that age is a large factor in what the biggest problems are. She said looking to gas or grocery prices can be a good predictor of household stress, and added that two-thirds of the community said they’re experiencing some sort of fiscal stress.

Biggest threat to the county's economy

  • 33% — Traffic congestion
  • 22% — Lack of industry and jobs
  • 15% — Property tax rates
  • 9% — Government waste and inefficiency
  • 9% — People and industry leaving the county

The concern about traffic congestion is an increase from previous years, but again, MacManus says it’s a growth-related concern that isn’t surprising to hear from residents.

Biggest thing that can contribute to the growth of the county’s economy

  • 23% — Manufacturing
  • 12% — Ecotourism; Transportation; Health and wellness
  • 10% — Workforce housing; Arts and culture

“Business-oriented things have gone up,” MacManus pointed out, as a faith in the ecotourism industry has gone down. “We love tourists, but we have our concerns.”

How important is it for the county to work on… (percent ranked as most important)

  • 54% — Effective growth management policies
  • 50% — Environmental quality
  • 46% — Efficient energy consumption
  • 45% — Good-paying jobs
  • 43% — Workforce housing

90% of respondents didn’t contact the county for anything. Those who did, did so to…

  • 65% — Get information
  • 18% — Ask for help
  • 9% — Report something
  • 5% — Voice a concern

MacManus said the focus on information, rather than complaint, is a good thing.

In your interactions with the county were you…?

  • 99% — Treated with respect
  • 95% — Given correct information
  • 93% — Helped in a timely fashion

MacManus called this feedback on interactions with county staff “record-level ratings.”

The most important thing for county officials to do now to to prepare for an economic downturn

  • 36% — Build new projects to meet growth needs
  • 33% — Save more money in the rainy day fund
  • 29% — Repair deteriorating infrastructure

The split between these choices is reflected in individual households as well, MacManus said — either spend it now or save it.

Preferred approach to annual county budget

  • 42% — Keep property taxes and services the same
  • 34% — Crate, earmark a new revenue source (other than the property tax)
  • 19% — Cut property taxes and reduce less vital services
  • 4% — Raise property taxes slightly to improve needed services

Answers to this question are important as the Commission continues through the process to solidify a budget for fiscal year 2018, MacManus said. The message: Keep taxes where they are.

Opinion on county spending priorities

  • 57% — Believe county spending priorities are about right
  • 29% — Believe county needs to re-prioritize its budget

The importance of allocating resources to… (percent ranked as most important)

  • 54% — Public transportation/traffic congestion
  • 47% — Healthcare
  • 43% — Economic development
  • 36% — Existing infrastructure; Public safety

MacManus said this year, participants ranked fewer options as “most important,” which means that as things are improving, there’s less urgency in residents’ minds.

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