Residents rate county services

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Survey: Citizens continue to question openness of government

By Arin McKenna

The 2012 Los Alamos Community Survey indicates an overall satisfaction with county services and the quality of life in Los Alamos remains high, with only a few areas of relative dissatisfaction.

The average rating for quality of life was 3.3 on a four point scale, with 87.3 percent of those responding rating it either “excellent” (37.3 percent) or “good” (53.0 percent). Overall rating for county services was also a 3.3.

The survey, which had 420 respondents, is conducted every two years. The overall data for the entire sample is accurate to plus or minus 4.7 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

One significant change this year is that CRC and Associates, LLC, which conducted the survey, was able to reach more of the younger demographic.

“We were able to capture a very well balanced demographic to population figures, which tended to give us more information from younger populations,” CRC President Chris Cordova said. “In my business, it’s been harder and harder over the years to get younger people to do surveys. So this year we used a mixed methodology that included phone surveys, but it also included Internet surveys so that we could get a younger demographic and make sure our survey was balanced.”

CRC used a four point scale for the survey, which means that any rating over two is above average, and any rating below two would be considered poor.

“When you’re designing these questions, if you want people to not have an opinion, you make it an odd number of points. If you want them to take a side you have an even number of points,” Cordova said. “So by having a four point scale, people either had to rate it below average on a two or above average on a three.

“However, when you’re taking the mean or average, it works its way out. And that’s the beauty of statistics. You take the mean and you have a very good idea about what the population thinks about things.”

The library system remains one of the most highly ranked services, with a rating of 3.7 percent.

Atomic City Transit runs a close second, with a 3.6 percent rating, down slightly from previous years. This year saw a dramatic increase in ridership rates, from 25 percent in 2008 and 2010 to 64 percent in 2012. Most riders rated their experience either as “excellent” (67.5 percent) or “good” (30.4 percent).

All the recreational/cultural programs received average ratings of 3.0 or better, except for the golf course at 2.9.

A large majority of residents indicated they use the parks (93.6 percent), library services (87.9 percent), county trails (86.5 percent) and recreation programs or activities (72.5 percent). Other more specialized programs are used by fewer residents such as the Aquatic Center (53.3 percent), the ice rink (37.3 percent), the senior center programs or activities (22.4 percent), and the golf course (22.0 percent).

Residents in Los Alamos County continue to “feel safe from crime.” Average ratings were 3.6 percent, with 59.5 percent saying they “always feel safe,” while 39.1 percent “usually feel safe.”

Twenty-seven percent of respondents attended a county council meeting during the previous year, and a similar percentage (27.5 percent) watched a meeting on PAC-8. The percentage attending meetings was up from earlier years.

However, the lowest rankings of the survey related to county government, with ratings to all the questions below 3.0 percent. The level of trust in the county was at 2.8, timely communication at 2.7, opportunities for citizen involvement in decision making at 2.6 and openness and fairness of county decision-making both at 2.4.

With the exception of citizen involvement, all ratings were lower than 2010, although not more than a tenth of a percent.

“If things are moving within two or three tenths of a percent on the smaller sample sizes, there’s not a significant change,” Cordova said. “In general, anything that’s more than three tenths of a percent, then there’s some significant difference in the program, either pro or con.”

Many of the 18 to 20 year olds answered “don’t know” to questions concerning county government.

“That makes me sad. We need to get them engaged,” Los Alamos County Public Information Officer Julie Habiger said. “I’d rather have them disapprove of what the county is doing than to throw up their hands and say, ‘I don’t know.’ I want the youth to be engaged and to care about their local government. So I’m looking at what I can do to engage the youth and get them more involved, such as using texting and Facebook.”

The survey also shows an increased reliance on social media and web-based news sources, especially among younger respondents. Only 36.8 percent of respondents were satisfied with current methods, with a large variance by age: 70.5 percent of those over 65 were satisfied, while only 16.7 percent of those 18-34 were satisfied with current methods.

Overall, the county has been effective at reaching constituents in every demographic.

A large majority of 2012 respondents (79.9 percent) have used the county website at least one time in the past 12 months, an increase in usage compared to 73.0 percent in 2010. In 2010, only 33.7 percent of respondents 65 years of age or older used the county website to get information, compared to 45.5 percent this year.  

Department heads and county officials are reviewing the survey results to determine how they can improve county services.

The survey is also an integral part of the County’s comprehensive performance measurement and management system called “LA Scores!” The primary objectives of the system are to help county government be accountable to its citizens and to help county managers make better-informed decisions.