County life improves, suggests survey

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Life in Sturgeon County is better now than it was two years ago, suggests a new study – one that also suggests about half of county residents feel they aren’t getting value for their tax dollar.

County council received the 2017 resident satisfaction survey at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The written survey by Banister Research asked some 1,715 residents last May through July how satisfied they were with 18 different county services.

The survey found that about 90 per cent of respondents considered life in the county to be good to excellent (a rank of 3 to 5 out of 5), said Tracy With, vice president of Banister, which was a statistically significant improvement from the 87 per cent that did last year.

“In a province where we seeing some economic hardship, it’s lovely to see your numbers actually increased in a lot of cases here.”

Residents also showed across-the-board improvements in their dealings with county staff, the survey found, and were about nine to 12 per cent more likely this year than they were in 2015 to agree that staffers were courteous, helpful, knowledgeable, fair, accessible, and quick to respond. Communications also improved, with residents giving the county a mean score of 3.63 out of five, up from 3.5 in 2015.

“The methods you are using are working,” With said, and the county had seen substantial gains in this area.

The survey showed statistically significant improvements in the proportion of residents who were very satisfied (defined here as a score of 4 or 5 out of 5) with weed control (34 per cent), drainage, (39 per cent), fire protection (58), and winter road maintenance (55), among other services. About 43 per cent of residents were very satisfied with county services overall, which is about the same as in 2015.

But the county continued to fare poorly when it came to roads. About 48 per cent of residents were very dissatisfied (defined here as a score of 1 or 2 out of 5) with asphalt road repairs in the survey, up from 46 per cent in 2015. Some 53 per cent were very dissatisfied with gravel road fixes, up from 48 per cent.

Just 14 per cent were very satisfied with the value they were getting for their tax dollars, with 50 per cent very dissatisfied.

“Roads are an issue in Sturgeon County,” With said, and roads were the main reason cited by people in the survey for not seeing value for their tax dollar.

She noted, however, that roads tend to score low in every rural municipality her company surveys, likely because there are so many of them to maintain.

Room to improve, say candidates

Mayoral candidate Alanna Hnatiw said that the areas the county had scored low in (winter snow removal, road repair, and weed control) were all ones of high importance to residents, and the ones it scored high in (such as solid waste at 66 per cent very satisfied) weren’t under the county’s daily management.

“These are not passing grades,” she said.

Council pushed staff to improve communications and partner with residents this term, when asked why he thought resident satisfaction in this area was up, said Mayor Tom Flynn. They had also hired more daytime firefighters and put specific dollars towards fixing a backlog of drainage issues.

Flynn said he wasn’t surprised that fewer people were very satisfied with the safety of their property (53 per cent versus 56 in 2015) given the recent wave of thefts. Council had hired more peace officers and was working with the RCMP to improve matters.

Flynn said the poor scores for gravel road repair may have been due in part to wet spring weather just prior to the survey. The county has reassigned its top grader operators to trouble spots and enhanced training for the rest of its crews to improve gravel roads, and has committed to rebuilding more roads under its Sustainable Roads Improvement Strategy. As these changes roll out, residents should see better roads and more value for their tax dollar, he said.

The survey is considered accurate to within two per cent 19 times out of 20 and is available in the agenda package for the Sept. 26 meeting.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.