Survey pinpoints citizen concerns

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By Kirsten Laskey

Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series regarding the Los Alamos County Community Survey.

There is always room for improvement and the 2010 Los Alamos County Community Survey revealed a few areas in the county that could use attention.
Whether county rolls up its sleeves, presses the pedal to metal or put its nose to the grindstone, citizens identified the condition of roads and sidewalks, the environmental sustainability program and the 1610 AM emergency information station as issues to be addressed.  The survey also showed the Customer Care Center could potentially use more awareness.
Although county government’s performance rating improved from the 2008 survey, which was the last time the survey was conducted.  
The survey, which was conducted in May by Southwest Planning and Marketing and interviewed 400 people of all ages, used a mean rating to evaluate different areas of the county. The rating was based on a four to one scale.  Four is excellent and one is poor.
Some of the issues that surfaced deal with overall quality of county services, which includes residential recycling, animal control services, safety and reliability of road conditions and safety and reliability of sidewalks.
The mean ratings varied for each category. Residential recycling services remained unchanged from 2008, at 3.2. Animal control services rose from 3.0 in 2008 to 3.2 this year and safety and reliability of road conditions fell from 2.8 in 2008 to 2.7 in 2010. Also, safety and reliability of sidewalk conditions rose from 2.8 in 2008 to 2.9 this year.
In general, the average overall rating for the quality of county services fell from 3.3 in 2008 to 3.2 in 2010.
Skip Dunn, a resident of Los Alamos for 36 years, said, “As far as services, I think we are amazingly spoiled with the extremely high level of services we have.”
However, he said he wondered about the costs for those services when it seems like the cost per capita is lower in other counties.
Tom Roach, pavement manager, said although some age groups of the survey respondents gave road and sidewalk safety and reliability better ratings than others, he felt the pavement program was on the right track.
“Each year we set out a work program that replaces a certain number of feet of sidewalk and a certain amount of ADA (American with Disability Act) ramps so we have a work program that addresses that and also addresses asphalt and we have a pavement preservation program – it is a series of surface treatments with the goal of maintaining asphalt surfaces,” Roach said.
He added, “Overall, I thought they were pretty good responses. I thought it pretty well reflected conditions.”
The effectiveness of the county environmental sustainability program was pinpointed as an area that could be improved.
Although it was a new question, the results showed it rated low compared to other services.
The mean rating was 2.7. Newer
residents gave the environmental sustainability program a slightly higher rating of 2.9 compared to long-term residents who gave it a 2.7 rating.
Also, 42.4 percent of the respondents had no opinion.
Tom Nagawiecki, environmental services specialist, said the results are not that surprising, given that the program is still pretty young.
One of things he said needs to be done is provide more educational outreach about the program.
“(We) try to talk to as many people as we can about it and (we) just try and spread the word,” Nagawiecki said.
He added multiple avenues are used to get the word out such as ads in the newspaper and on KRSN 1490 as well as at the Reel Deal Movie Theater. The other big promoter of the program is its Web site, located off of the county’s Web site. Nagawiecki said more work needs to be done to inform people about the program Web site.
However, he said the site is only one year old.
“As we’re going to be putting out documents that communicate more with the council on the sustainability front, I know that will increase people’s awareness of the program,” he said.
While the county Web site is an effective tool for distributing information – 73 percent of respondents said they use site, some issues arose with the 311 or Customer Care Center as well as the 1610 AM emergency radio station.
311 remains the second highest way residents gather information at 44.8 percent, however, this year there was a higher number of respondents who had no opinion, 44.3 percent, compared to 28 percent in 2008. This could mean, the survey reports, that a larger number of residents are not using 311.
Karen Kendall, business operations manager for the Department of Public Utilities, said the 311 Customer Care Center is unique because it does so much more than other customer care centers in the U.S. She said the 311 Center handles utility payments, establishes utility accounts and transfers accounts. The center also deals with the cemetery, Lemon Lot, permits for banners on the Diamond Drive overpass and collections.
Therefore, Julie Williams-Hill, public relations manager for the utilities department, said those who took the survey and selected no opinion, not because they don’t use 311 but possibly because they don’t consider the cemetery, Lemon Lot or other business as related to the county.
Kendall added residents might not call 311 because there are a variety of ways to get information such as through the county Web site.  
Also, the public’s awareness of 1610 AM emergency information station decreased.
This year, 27.6 percent of the respondents said they were aware of the station, compared to 40 percent in 2008.
Julie Habiger, communications and public relations administrator, said in September is emergency awareness month, the county seized the opportunity to take out newspaper advertisements to promote the emergency station.  The county Web site prominently featured the station as well, throughout the month.
She added a re-introduction of 1610 AM is also being considered, In 2008, Habiger said general outreach was conducted for the station — refrigerator magnets advertising 1610 AM were included in packets for new residents. A redesign for the magnets is being considered as well as Philmont Taylor, emergency management coordinator, hosting informational booths, when appropriate, at different community events.
Despite scoring better than in 2008, county government mean ratings were below good in communicating information about the county in a timely manner, 2.8; providing information to citizens to participate in county’s decisions, 2.6; providing opportunities for citizens to be involved in government, 2.6; openness in county decision making, 2.5; and fairness in the county decision making process, 2.5.
Although there are issues for the county to address, some responsibility does lie on the citizen, too, Los Alamos resident Pat Max said.
“If you feel like things are not going the way you want to (you) have to vote and participate … don’t count on anyone else to do it for you,” she said.
Max added when council sees the same faces in the crowd during their meetings, they’ll begin to think people are not interested in what is going on in the county.
She said she believes citizens do have a good impact on council’s decisions. For instance, as a result of a citizen’s petition regarding roundabouts on Diamond Drive, council rethought having roundabouts on the street.