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Citizen survey gives low marks on trust in local government, high marks for civic engagement

  - Bainbridge Island Review photo
— image credit: Bainbridge Island Review photo

Great place to live, but not a great place to find a parking spot.

The results for the 2013 National Citizen Survey are in, and the majority of Bainbridge residents agree that their community is a "good" or "excellent" place to live.

Approximately 1,200 households participated in the poll, launched late last year, and helped identify strengths and weaknesses in the community and its services.

To do this, the questionnaire gathered public opinion in categories ranging from civic engagement to community design. It further compared Bainbridge's results to those found in other jurisdictions.

"We actually had a very high return, or response rate," City Manager Doug Schulze said during his presentation to city council last week.

"Typically the response rate from a community through the National Research Center is 25 to 40 percent for a mail survey. We actually ended up on the high end of that with a 40 percent response rate," Schulze said.

Overall, citizens gave high marks for public safety and community involvement.

The survey, however, found that most citizens feel there are not enough jobs, quality affordable housing or public parking on the island.

Citizens also displayed little trust in their local government.

The poll found that 52 percent of its respondents described the value of services for the taxes paid on Bainbridge as either "fair" or "poor." This ranked Bainbridge below the benchmark of comparable cities. Likewise, even more respondents gave negative marks on "the overall direction that Bainbridge Island is taking," ranking it "much below" the benchmark of comparable cities.

The timing of the survey, however, may have been a factor in some of the responses to questions, city officials acknowledged.

"One of the things that we might want to consider in future years is making sure that the survey is done during a non-election year," Schulze told city council.

Since the poll was completed during a politically charged season, Schulze explained, there might have been different results had the survey been done in a different year.

"The criticism tends to bubble during that time of year," agreed Bainbridge Mayor Anne Blair.

Despite the negative results on public trust, the majority of respondents thought the overall reputation of Bainbridge Island and the job its government does in welcoming citizen involvement is "excellent" or "good"  — both of which rank the city "much above" other jurisdictions.

When asked their impression of city employees, more than 80 percent of the poll's respondents said staff left a good or excellent impression of their knowledge, responsiveness and courtesy.

Still, local government was just one factor in the questionnaire. Citizens were also asked to rank the community itself.

The most sizable notations the city received in particular elements of Bainbridge living, were on public parking and affordable quality housing.

Most residents said the amount of public parking is either "fair" or "poor," of which 31 percent of respondents marked "poor."

Similarly, 37 percent marked "poor" when describing the availability of affordable quality housing.

Parking and affordable housing was followed by opinion on the city's growth.

While 46 percent of those surveyed said the city's population is growing at a normal rate, 34 percent said the community is growing "somewhat too fast," and 18 percent said it's growing "much too fast."

Accordingly, 47 percent said available jobs are increasing "somewhat too slow" and 28 percent said "much too slow."

Though some of the information from the survey does not provide a full picture, Schulze told the city council that by identifying the lowest-ranked categories such as public parking and growth, the city will be better equipped to focus its resources on ways to improve the quality of Bainbridge Island.

All in all, 92 percent of those surveyed rated the quality of life in their community as "excellent" or "good," and nearly all said they plan on staying on Bainbridge for the next five years.

Bainbridge ranked first out of 228 comparable cities for the number of respondents who reported they have volunteered for some community group or activity. It also ranked first out of 197 comparable cities for the number respondents who said they participated in a community organization.

Both characterize a very engaged and friendly community, Schulze said.

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