Montgomery County residents, despite feeling the impact of the nation’s economic downturn over the past two years, again strongly endorsed the County as an “excellent” or “good” place to live and said they are generally happy with the quality of services the County offers. Those sentiments were expressed in the most recent county-wide survey of residents conducted by the independent National Research Center of Boulder, Colo. The results of the 35-question survey were released today.
This survey followed one conducted in 2007 that was the first survey of Montgomery residents in 13 years. In the survey that was conducted in the fall of 2009, a first-time question found that 60 percent of respondents said their families were negatively impacted by the economic downturn. However, 88 percent of overall respondents rated Montgomery “as a good place to live” (compared to 86 percent in the 2007 survey); 86 percent said the County is “a good place to raise children” (compared to 81 percent in 2007); and 82 percent were happy with the overall quality of life in the County (compared to 79 percent in 2007).
Responding residents continued to give high marks to significant County services including educational opportunities (84 percent rated them “excellent” or “good” compared to 81 percent in 2007) and recreational opportunities (80 percent excellent or good compared to 81 percent in 2007). The quality of fire service, ambulance service, recycling service, parks and public libraries all received “excellent” or “good” ratings of 87 percent or higher—similar to their ratings in 2007.
Ratings given to traffic flow, affordable housing, population growth, pedestrian safety and the amount of public parking available improved compared to the 2007 survey, but respondents indicated that the County must continue to improve in those areas. Despite the overall economy, the County showed significantly improved ratings in being a good place to retire (48 percent “excellent” or “good” in 2009 compared to 41 percent in 2007) and respondents feeling that the County has increased the availability of affordable housing (23 percent “excellent” or “good” in 2009 compared to 14 percent in 2007).
Although difficult economic times could lead to increased crime and an increased sense of feeling less safe, the survey did not reflect that. Four major questions about crime showed respondents feeling the same about a sense of safety in 2009 as they did in 2007. Of 2009 respondents, 90 percent said they felt “very safe” or “somewhat safe” in their neighborhood during the day (compared to 91 percent in 2007) and 70 percent in 2009 said they had a sense of safety in they neighborhood after dark (compared to 69 percent in 2007). These feelings are backed by recent statistics from Montgomery County Police that showed in the first nine months of 2009, serious crime decreased by 6.4 percent and overall crime decreased by 4.7 percent.
Upon release of the survey today, County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Council President Nancy Floreen said that although residents think the County is doing well on many key issues, they also provided feedback on where to strengthen County services.
“Despite the economic downturn, residents rate the County even more highly than two years ago as a good place to live, learn, work and raise a family,” said County Executive Leggett. “Although we still face challenges on issues such as affordable housing, traffic and public safety, the survey shows that residents recognize the progress we are making. Although they have been asked to do more with less, the survey shows that County employees are delivering even better service than in 2007. We will continue to use the results of this survey to address our challenges and make further improvements.”
The survey was conducted in September by the independent National Research Center, which over the past seven years has conducted more than 500 similar surveys for jurisdictions of all sizes around the nation. The survey was mailed to 3,000 randomly selected households across the county. The adjusted response rate of 30 percent was “higher than NRC often sees in larger jurisdictions,” said the report. Translation services in five languages (Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and French) were made available to the households receiving the surveys. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
When compared to the 2007 survey, the majority of 24 County “characteristics” remained stable in the 2009 survey, with nine of the characteristics receiving significantly more favorable responses in the latest survey. Among the characteristics receiving significantly better ratings were variety of housing options (57 percent “excellent” or “good” in 2009 compared to 43 percent in 2007); openness and acceptance of the community toward people of diverse backgrounds (79 percent versus 71 percent); opportunities to attend cultural activities (81 percent versus 73 percent); availability of affordable housing (23 percent versus 15 percent); and availability of services for seniors (61 percent versus 53 percent).
"Governments often make broad assumptions about what we are doing well and what is important to our residents, but a survey of residents takes us another step and either confirms those assumptions or tells us where we need to do better,” said Council President Floreen. “This spring, we will be preparing the Fiscal Year 2011 operating budget—a budget process that will be one of the most difficult in County history due to the current economic times. We need every bit of information possible from our residents to help in our decision making. This survey could not have come along at a better time.”
Of those who had contact with a County employee over the past year, 82 percent said they found the employee to have “excellent” or “good” knowledge of the subject, compared to 76 percent in 2007. Respondents’ overall impression of County employees improved to 76 percent from 71 percent.
Some services in the County continued to receive lower ratings, including services from cable television providers (41 percent excellent or good in 2009, compared to 35 percent in 2007), whose services are provided by private companies through franchises granted by the County. The lowest-rated services provided by the County were code enforcement (41 percent in 2009 compared to 39 percent in 2007) and land use, planning and zoning (44 percent compared to 40 percent). Services for low-income people improved in its rating to 48 percent excellent or good from 40 percent, but were still among the lowest-rated County-provided services.
“As in 2007, respondents to the 2009 survey felt that crime, traffic and public schools were viewed as the most important issues the County should address,” said the report’s executive summary.
Demographic information provided by respondents showed that 43 percent have lived in the County 20 years or more, 90 percent have access to the Internet at home, 72 percent own their own homes and 33 percent speak a language other than English at home. Of employees who commute, 19 percent have a daily one-way ride of 15 minutes or less. Other commutes for respondents are 16 to 30 minutes (30 percent), 31 to 45 minutes (24 percent) and 46 minutes or more (27 percent).
See the 2009 Residents’ Survey (pdf).
# # #
Media Contact: Esther Bowring 240-777-6507 or Neil H. Greenberger 240-777-7939
# # #