Results of Pinellas County’s annual study of citizen values shows signs of improvement.
Sarah Lindemuth, senior research director with HCP & Associates, presented results from the phone survey to commissioners during their March 24 meeting. The survey took place Jan. 26-Feb. 11. Calls were made to 200 citizens in four demographic areas -– north, mid, south and the beaches.
The goal of the phone study, as well as a second study conducted online, is to “measure citizen expectations and perceptions regarding key drivers for citizen quality of life, to determine strengths and opportunity of improvement,” according to the written report.
County Administrator Mark Woodard pointed out that the study results help staff as it develops the annual budget and to evaluate the effectiveness of county services.
One new metric included in the 2015 survey was whether residents were employed within their skillset. Lindemuth said 97.9 percent of those called indicated they were employed within their skillset. Of those respondents, 60 percent indicated they had high-wage jobs.
Commissioner Pat Gerard questioned the demographics report that showed 74.4 percent of the county made more than $50,000 a year. Latest census figures showed only 46.4 percent brought home more than $50,000 a year. Gerard pointed out that it might be harder to get low-income residents or transients on the phone.
Lindemuth answered that the census data was five years old. She also said that north county residents showed a higher income than the other demographic areas.
While the study included the county’s “newer” residents, eight in 10, 84.2 percent, have lived in Pinellas for more than 10 years, which is a significant increase from 79.9 percent reported in 2014, Lindemuth said.
Those surveyed said they would offer “strong recommendations” to others that Pinellas was a good place to live, work, raise children and retire. Nearly nine in 10 said they would recommend the county as a good place to live and to retire and eight in 10 would recommend Pinellas as a good place to work and raise their children.
Lindemuth said since 2012, the first year of the study, the number of people saying they would recommend the county to others had significantly increased.
Five study areas showed that citizen’s expectations aligned with their reality. Those areas were volunteer opportunities; cultural events and social activities; recreational opportunities, presence of parks and public spaces; and ease of public transit.
The five areas with the lowest satisfaction were traffic on major roads; housing affordability; health care and human services for disadvantaged residents; availability of career opportunities for their children; and quality of public infrastructure.
Citizen perception of qualify of life has improved in the past five years, Lindemuth said. In 2015, 31.9 percent said quality of life was significantly to somewhat better as compared 17.3 percent in 2012. Only 23.9 percent said quality of life was significantly to somewhat worse in 2015 as compared to 42.3 percent in 2012. Forty-three percent of those surveyed think that quality of life will improve in the next five years and only 13.5 percent think it will get worse.
Fewer people are planning to move away from Pinellas – only 1.9 percent compared to 5.3 percent in 2012 and 3.6 percent in 2014.
More than four in five, or 81.2 percent, of survey respondents say they have a great deal of trust and confidence in the way county government handles issues, which is an increase from 78.2 percent reported in 2013. However, trust and confidence declined from 87.3 percent reported in 2014. Lindemuth said local levels of trust and confidence still exceed national trust and confidence.
Traffic congestion continues to be the most consistent area of citizen concern since the first study in 2012, she said. Several commissioners commented on the failed Greenlight referendum that would have provided more funding for transit, which is one way officials had planned to help reduce traffic.
Commissioner Ken Welch said the “disconnect” had more to do with how to pay for improved transit than the recognition that there is a need. Woodard said it also had to do with the difference between expectation and experience for local transit.
Commissioner Dave Eggers suggested that future studies do more to engage the public so the numbers could be more quantitative.
“Drill it down a little better and make it more than just numbers,” he said.
Commissioner Karen Seel also suggested changing the time of the year when the study was done. She said traffic congestion was different depending on the time of the year due to tourism, which is up 23 percent, and the influx of snowbirds during the winter. She also would like more information on where citizens say the worse traffic congestion is occurring.
Gerard would like more information on public opinion about transit needs as opposed to traffic concerns. Eggers said it might be a good idea to take the study “on the road to get feedback.”
“We’re made up of so many different communities,” he said.