City questions could use more answers

Mike KnaakColumn, Opinion, Print Editions, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

“You can observe a lot by watching,” so said legendary Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and philosopher Yogi Berra.

I’d like to amend that famous quote a bit. “You can learn a lot by asking.”

That was the idea in 2010 when the Legislature created the Council on Local Results and Innovation. The council compiled 10 performance benchmarks for cities and counties.

Local governments could voluntarily survey their residents and rate local services. Presumably the results would guide elected officials on where to make improvements.

As an incentive, the state gives the governments 14 cents per resident, up to a maximum of $25,000. In 2017, 32 cities and 24 counties participated in the program. There’s a main question about overall satisfaction with city services and then specific questions about public safety, streets, snowplowing, recreation, and water and sewer services.

Last week St. Joseph certified its 2018 results and sadly, only 10 people responded out of the more than 6,700 residents. The city will collect about $950.

The survey was conducted during February at the League of Minnesota Cities website.

Two conclusions can be drawn from the very low response rate. Either most people are happy and don’t feel the need to offer input. Or the majority of residents didn’t know about the survey.

On the main question – How would you rate the overall quality of services provided by the city? – St. Joseph’s residents appeared satisfied. Four people (40 percent – the math is easy here) rated the services as Good, five rated them Fair and only one response offered a Poor rating.

Public safety – fire and police services – also received high marks.

St. Joseph’s neighboring cities collected a higher rate of responses, but those numbers are far from overwhelming.

Some 23 of Waite Park’s 7,500 residents responded to that city’s 2017 survey. On the main question – overall quality of services – 36.36 percent responded Excellent, with another 36.36 percent responding Good, and 27.27 percent responding Poor.

In Sartell’s 2017 survey, only 137 of the city’s nearly 18,000 residents responded. Like the other area cities, the results titled positive on the main question with 24 percent responding Excellent, 63 percent replying Good, 10 percent rating Fair and only 3 percent offering a Poor rating.

At the end of each survey, citizens can offer comments. Most of the St. Joseph comments are pretty predictable such as support for the recreation center and opposition to the St. Joseph Township annexation process.

One comment did stand out though. It read, in part “I also get quite sick of the hyper liberal newspaper columns in the editor(al) section. Can we make them even a little more moderate perhaps?”

Setting aside the obvious – that the newspaper is not a part of city government – I would not call our editorial stands “hyper” liberal. But opinions are in the eye of the beholder.

If area cities continue with the survey, officials need to do more to increase participation. These sample sizes in no way adequately represent the general population. I’ll put in a plug for the home team. The local newspaper with the “hyper local” editorial page can help. We reach every household each week. Local leaders, let me know when your survey is ready and I’ll do my best to help pass the word.

You can indeed learn a lot by asking…and the results are even more useful with more answers.

Author: Mike Knaak

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