100% of those who contacted county on an issue said they were treated with respect, county’s latest Citizen Opinion Survey finds

‘Population growth/new development’ cited as most important issue facing county

In presenting the results of the 2022 Citizen Opinion Survey to the Sarasota County Commission on Oct. 11, one of the project team members referenced a specific chart as he pointed out, “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this in my years of doing survey work.”

Robert Allen Jr., vice president of HCP Associates in Tampa, was referring to the fact that of the 132 residents who said they had contacted Sarasota County during the past year, 100% agreed that they had been treated with respect.

He characterized that as “fantastic customer service.”

Additionally, 97% of those survey respondents said that county staff had given them the correct information, and 91% noted that they were helped in a timely fashion.

“We have never seen the amount of service and dedication and professionalism and sacrifice [of county employees] better than we’ve seen it in the past couple of weeks here in Sarasota County,” Commissioner Ron Cutsinger pointed out.

He was referring to staff members’ efforts to help residents affected by Hurricane Ian.

Then, on a lighter note, Cutsinger added, “I feel badly for the county administrator …” Turning to look at Jonathan Lewis, Cutsinger said, “You can only go down from there.”

“Commissioner Cutsinger’s right,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said of the plaudits for staff. “I would not have believed that figure, that 100%, a month ago,” Ziegler continued. However, since Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, he said, he has seen county staff working “in some of the toughest times.”

Employees who have lost roofs and even homes, Ziegler added, have been showing up at work, at evacuation centers and at other facilities “with a smile on their face and [have been] helping citizens.”

Ziegler characterized the Citizen Opinion Survey as “a report card on our staff, “ adding, “I would hope that this would be relayed to the entire organization and really summed up for them.”

The survey was conducted from July 20 through Aug. 28, Allen of HCP pointed out — before Hurricane Ian struck the state. The margin of error, he said, was plus or minus 2.77%.

Among other traditional questions in the survey — which is the county’s 31st, Allen noted — was the one asking all 1,250 respondents how they would rate their quality of life in Sarasota County. The 2022 survey showed that 95% of the residents who were surveyed for the report found the quality of life to be good or excellent. The percentage providing the “Good” answer had represented the larger number starting in 2017, a graph showed, but the “Excellent” view won out in 2020 and has stayed on top, with 52% of respondents sharing that view this year.

Allen called that “a very, very, very high amount of satisfaction with the quality of life.”

Last year, the “Good” and “Excellent” answers were offered by 97% of respondents.

Out of those surveyed this year, a graph showed, the largest portion — 43% — had lived in the county six to 10 years. Another 32% had been country residents for more than 10 years.

The survey team works to get answers from people reflecting the county’s demographics, Allen explained; the respondents were spread countywide. The largest portion of them, according to a graphic he showed the board, lived between University Parkway and Clark Road — 34%. Another 16% lived between Blackburn Point Road and River Road, while 14% resided in the city of Sarasota.

Answers to another traditional county survey question also was noteworthy this year, Allen reported, because it marked a shift among respondents.

When asked the most important issue facing Sarasota County, Allen said, 31% picked “Population growth/new development.”

In years past, he said the issue that garnered the highest percentage of responses was no issue at all — or, as the survey worded that answer, “There are no serious problems.”

Allen also acknowledged the fact that the latter answer is an unusual one for such a survey.

This year, 13% cited no serious problems facing the county, a graph showed.

Underscoring Allen’s remarks, a section in the Executive Summary of the survey titled Year-Over Patterns Observed put the shift this way: “Those not thinking Sarasota County has a ‘most important issue’ has decreased significantly.”

The Executive Summary also pointed out that the “no serious problems” response was cited by 27% in the 2020 survey and by 18% of them last year.

Moreover, Allen presented the board a chart showing the top five “Most Important Issue” answers from 2019 through 2021. “Population growth/New development” was in first place the past two years, but with a smaller survey percentage — 23.2% in 2021 and 25.7% in 2020.

“Affordable housing” was the third most important issue facing the county in the 2022 survey, as cited by 6% of respondents, Allen’s graph noted. In the past, Allen said, “This has never been a big-ticket item …”

“Crime” was the response that 5% of respondents provided, the chart also showed.

That easily could have been a reflection of the survey takers’ awareness of news media coverage involving incidents across the United States, Joshua Scacco, an associate professor at the University of South Florida and a member of the survey team, told the commissioners.

“Our sheriff does such a great job,” Commissioner Ziegler pointed out, referring to Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman. That is why Ziegler said he believes crime is not a big issue with most county residents.

Affordable housing and crime were not in the Top 5 at all in 2020 and 2021, Allen pointed out. “I would flag that [change] as something to watch,” he advised the commissioners.

Another annual question asked respondents is what has put the greatest stress on their households. Although the largest group — 23% — replied that they were not feeling stresses, that figure was down from 28% in 2021 and 43% in 2020.

This year, 17% of respondents chose “Household finances,” with 12% citing “Gas prices,” and 10% choosing “Taxes in general,” followed by 9% picking “Property taxes.”

Thus, the survey indicated that people “are more financially stressed overall” than they were in the two previous years, Allen told the commissioners.

Other data

Scacco of the University of South Florida pointed to another big change this year. Asked the most important trend for the county in 2022, more respondents chose “Career opportunities for my children.”

That was in a section of the survey that the project team refers to as “Expectation Gaps,” Scacco explained. The questions are designed to show the variations between what the respondents perceive as the ideal situation and what their actual experience of the issue has been.

Referring to the career opportunities question, the Executive Summary said, “This gap noticeably increased from 1.10 in 2019 to 2.17 in 2022.”

The Summary pointed out that, “[W]hen comparing the magnitude of the expectation gaps from 2019 to 2021, most gaps were similar or improved from 2019.”

Other Expectation Gaps focused on “Availability of good-paying jobs” and “Availability of affordable workforce housing,” for examples.

Scacco then turned to the answers regarding the county’s spending priorities. Only 9% of the respondents believed county leaders should reprioritize the budget, he said. Asked about their specific concerns in that regard, the chart showed that 18% cited the need for more spending on “Roads/Transit/Traffic,” and the same percentage cited “Affordable Housing.” In third place, “Health care” was the focus of 15% of those survey takers.

When asked the question, a pie chart showed, 17% of the respondents replied that they did not know, had no relative information or refused to answer.

Then Scacco turned to the perennial question, “What do you think is the single biggest thing that can contribute to the growth of Sarasota County?” The top answer, cited by 15% of the respondents, was “Eco-tourism,” a graph showed. “Health and wellness” was in second place, with 14%, followed by “Arts and culture” at 12%. Another 11% cited “Manufacturing.”

Five years of survey data make it clear that the emphasis on ecotourism and health and wellness has been growing, Scacco aid, while the focus on workforce training has been declining.

The percentage of respondents answering, “Workforce training or re-training” fell to 9% this year, tied with “Sports tourism.”

Among other answers on the survey are the following:

  • 55% of respondents said they were “Very satisfied” with county services, while 42% were “Somewhat satisfied.”
  • 72% said they would “Definitely” recommend Sarasota County to a friend, family member, or acquaintance as a place to live, while 74% answered that they would recommend it as a place to retire and vacation; 71% responded that they would recommend it as a place to work.
  • 69% expressed their trust in Sarasota County Government “Most of the time,” while 40% of them said they trusted the federal government most of the time, and 53% replied that they trusted the state government most of the time.
  • Of those who had contacted the county for some reason over the past year, 14% cited “Garbage collection” as the reason, followed by 12% noting “Recycling.” The primary means of contacting the county was by phone, as reported by 65% of those respondents. Another 20% talked in person with a county staff member.

1 thought on “100% of those who contacted county on an issue said they were treated with respect, county’s latest Citizen Opinion Survey finds”

  1. Good to know that staff treats people well. It’s likely the grades would be far less impressive had the question been: “Regarding public issues such as Growth or Roads or Environmental Concerns, do you feel the Board has been responsive to the public’s input at public hearings or Open To The Public?”

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