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February 10, 2009

County satisfaction survey shows support for increased transportation spending

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Survey-graphic
Source: Albemarle County / Weldon-Cooper Center

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has been briefed on the results of the County’s biennial citizen satisfaction survey. The survey was conducted from mid-August to mid-September 2008 by the Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia. There were 768 completed interviews yielding a margin of error of +/-3 points. Supervisors heard the results at their meeting on February 4, 2009. 

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Lori Allshouse, the County’s Manager of Strategic Planning and Performance, said the goals of the survey were to establish citizens’ opinions on the County’s quality of life, growth management strategies, and satisfaction with County services. This year, questions were added that specifically addressed how the County should allocate its resources.

Some highlights:

  • 72.8% rated the County’s ‘quality of life’ as being 8 or better (on scale of 1 to 10)
  • 92.8% said they were satisfied with County programs and services
  • 26.6% of respondents said they had ridden a bus in the last 12 months.
  • 70.3% of respondents supported using County tax dollars to fund road programs
  • 58.2% said they would support a tax increase to fund transportation
  • 66.9% said they wanted taxes and services to remain the same
  • 52.2% were satisfied with the County’s efforts to provide recycling services
  • 67.3% would favor an increase in recycling services
  • 56.5% were satisfied with the County’s efforts to develop affordable housing
  • 45.9% would support an increase in property taxes to increase funding for affordable housing
  • 60.8% were satisfied with the County’s efforts to manage growth

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said he was concerned that a question was asked about tax assessments. When asked to rate satisfaction with whether the County “[provides] fair property tax assessments”, 58.4% answered yes. Allshouse said that “dropped significantly” from 2006, when 70.2% responded with a positive answer. Boyd said the Board had little input into that issue. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he agreed with Boyd’s concern.  

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) said she thought that the question had more to do with respondents’ philosophy on taxes. Allshouse said the result could be interpreted by the Board that there is room to improve public education regarding property assessments. 

Thomas Guterbock, the Director of the Weldon-Cooper Center for Survey Research, said the satisfaction percentage increased to 67% with the more specific wording of “How satisfied are you that the County “ensures property tax is based on a fair tax assessment of the property value.” He said that suggested the original question solicited responses that were more about taxation in general.

20090204-Survey
Thomas Guterbock (left) and Lori Allshouse (right) brief Supervisors on the survey results

Allshouse said the County experimented with alternate wordings on the section that dealt with allocation of resources. All respondents were given a list of service areas provided by the County. Half were asked how important it was to devote “resources” to each area, the same wording as in previous years.

The other half, however, were specifically asked if they would support “spending tax dollars” on each item.

“We found that it did make a difference,” Allshouse said. Rooker said that he was not surprised that results generally went down when the phrase “tax dollars” was used.

The survey also found that 70.3% of respondents said they “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” the use of tax money to support “road construction”. Those who responded yes were asked a follow-up question if they would support a tax increase to fund “transportation”, resulting in 58.2% responding “yes” or “yes-depends.”

If the County decides to spend more of its own money on transportation, the Supervisors will either have to reduce spending elsewhere, increase property taxes, or create a transportation service district for areas that would be served by new transit lines or roads. A House of Delegates subcommittee killed a bill (HB2161) on January 28, 2009 that would have allowed County voters to decide for themselves if they wanted to raise the sales tax up to 1 cent to pay for transportation projects. They did so at a time when the Commonwealth Transportation Board is considering reducing Albemarle County’s state funding for secondary roads from $15.5 million to $11.7 million over the next six years.

Sean Tubbs

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