97% report high quality of life in the county
The most important issue facing Sarasota County is a combination of population growth and new development, the 2021 Citizen Opinion Survey found.
During a Sept. 28 presentation to the County Commission, Joshua Scacco, an associate professor at the University of South Florida and a member of the survey team, pointed out, “There’s a consistent decrease for those saying, ‘No significant issues [in the county],’” over the past three years.
The University of South Florida’s Institute of Government collaborates with HCP Associates of Tampa in conducting the survey. This is the 30th year the initiative has been undertaken.
In 2019, a graph showed, 26.6% of the survey respondents reported no serious problems. However, in 2020, that figure dropped to about 18%. This year, 10% of respondents offered that answer.
Population growth/new development grew in import in the 2020 survey, the graph showed. In 2019, 20.3% of residents offered that answer. In 2020, the figure climbed to 25.7%; however, it declined to 23.2% in the 2021 survey.
“Quality of our waterways” was the focus of 6.3% of the 1,250 residents this year who responded to the survey, the graph also noted. In 2019 and 2020, only 2% of those who took the survey offered that answer, the graph showed.
“Taxes” and “Traffic/Transportation” also hit the 6% mark this year. “Taxes” was the top focus for only 3% of survey takers in 2020, compared to 4% in 2019.
In 2019, “Traffic/Transportation” was the most important issue for 9% of respondents, but in 2020, only 3% of the survey takers cited it as their primary concern.
Scacco explained that when respondents pointed this year to “Traffic/Transportation,” they were asked if a specific area or street was bad. Out of the resulting answers, Interstate 75 garnered the most attention, with 23% of individuals naming that corridor. The Jacaranda roundabout in Venice and “All over” were tied for second place, with 13% each.
At the bottom of the list was “Downtown,” which was named by 2% of the respondents.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler told Scacco that he found it hard to believe that only 4% of the respondents cited “COVID-19/Vaccines” as their top stressor this year. When he talks with people on the street, Ziegler added, that is the No. 1 issue.
“This particular question is open-ended,” Scacco told Ziegler, referring to the “Most Important Issue.” Thus, people tell the professional conducting the survey c whatever comes to mind first.
Ziegler again reiterated his surprise at the ranking of the topic, noting that more people — 5% — cited “Stormwater/drainage/flooding” than COVID-19.
In regard to the question about the greatest stress on their households, the number who reported no problems fell from 43% of the total in 2020 to 28% this year. “Taxes in general” was the response of 10% of the survey takers, while “Personal debt,” “Property taxes” and “Household finances” each was the focus of 8% of respondents.
“Personal debt” was the cited by only 3% of the 2020 survey takers.
High quality of life
In response to one of the primary, traditional survey questions, 55% of the survey takers rated their quality of life in the county “Excellent,” and another 42% said it was “Good,” compared to 2% who said, “Fair.”
As usual, the survey team combined the “Excellent” and “Good” responses to report a 97% quality of life rating.
Last year, “Excellent” was the response of 53% of the county residents who took the survey, with 43% choosing “Good,” for a 96% rating.
After a dip for the “Excellent” answers in 2019, a trending graph showed, that response has climbed the past two years.
Additionally, 55% of those who took the survey this year said they were “Very satisfied” with county services, while 41% said they were “Somewhat satisfied.” Thus, the survey team put that rating for the county at 96%.
The question asking whether people would recommend Sarasota County “to a friend, family member, or acquaintance” as a place for specific purposes also saw higher positive trends this year.
For example, 74% of the survey takers reported that they would “Definitely” recommend the county for a vacation, and 71% said they would “Definitely” recommend it as a place to retire.
The results also showed that 67% reported that they “Definitely” would recommend the county as a place to live, and 67% responded that they “Definitely” would recommend it as a place to raise children.
The answer this year with the lowest “Definitely” response — 54% — regarded recommending the county as a place to open a business. Yet, another 31% said they “Probably” would.
County spending priorities and economic growth
Another question asked, “Which view about reprioritizing the [county] budget comes closest to your own?”
In response to that, 72% said they believe the spending priorities are “about right.” That was up from 55% in 2020.
For the 10% who believe the county needs to adjust those priorities, 24% replied, “Don’t know” when asked what the county should do. Seventeen percent suggested more spending on “Crime/Police,” and another 17% cited “Health care.” Nine percent chose “Roads/Traffic.”
“It seems like county residents have actually become more attuned with what’s going on with county policies over the last couple of years,” Scacco told the commissioners.
A related question asked what respondents believe “is the single biggest thing that can contribute to the growth of Sarasota County’s economy?”
“Eco-tourism” and “Health and wellness” were the top choices, with 15% each. “Arts and culture” and “Manufacturing” tied at 13% each, while “Workforce housing” was the focus of 9% of the survey takers.
In 2019, “Workforce housing” was second on the list, with 16% of respondents choosing it. That year, “Workforce training or retraining” was the top choice, with 17% of the survey takers choosing it.
In 2019, 11% of respondents cited “Eco-tourism,” but the figure climbed to 14% last year.
When Commissioner Michael Moran asked about the ranking of “Eco-tourism,” Scacco explained, “It’s offered as an option.”
Then Moran pointed out that each commissioner serves on “all sorts of other boards.” What he hears from people when he attends meetings of boards for which he is the commission representative, Moran continued, “is workforce, workforce, workforce.” Perhaps county residents in general would not think of that answer, Moran added, whereas employers would.
Scacco said that when the survey team provides its final report to county administrative staff in October, he would make certain that it includes details showing how survey respondents who identified themselves as business owners answered the question.
Yet another section of the survey put the spotlight on the importance of specific issues to respondents and their actual experience in regard to those issues. The scale used for that part of the survey was 1 to 10, Scacco pointed out.
The most important issue was “Fire and emergency services,” which earned a score of 9.05. The “Experience” factor was 8.02, the graph showed. “Public safety” achieved a score of 9.02 in terms of importance; for “Experience,” the score was 7.87. “Cleanliness of public spaces” was the third topic of most importance to respondents, with a score of 8.9. The “Experience” level for that issue was 8.
The larger the gap between importance and experience, Scacco explained, the greater the opportunity for the county government to address the issue.
For “Parks and recreation,” the “Importance” score was 8.64, while the “Experience” level was 8.36.
How well is county government serving you?
Another routine question involves trust in government. As in the past, the “Most of the time” answer was higher for Sarasota County Government (74%) than the 64% for state government and 51% for the federal government. Of the respondents who live in a municipality within the county, 75% chose the “Most of the time” answer.
Combining “Most of the time” and “Almost always,” 90% of respondents trust Sarasota County Government, a graph showed. The positive replies to that question have climbed almost steadily since 2018, the graph also noted.
Asked whether they had contacted county government, 14% of the survey takers replied that they had done so, and 80% of those people used a phone, the results showed. The top reason they cited for that contact, a graph noted, was “Garbage collection,” with 21% of responses. Another 14% cited, “Permitting,” while the answers “Recycling” and “Water” both garnered 11% of the replies.
In response to a question about how they were treated, 96% pointed to the “Treated with respect” answer, and 93% said they received the correct information. Asked whether they were helped in a timely fashion, 89% offered a positive response.
“My takeaway,” Commissioner Nancy Detert told Scacco, “is very, very high marks for people saying they were treated with respect,” received the correct information and were satisfied with how they were treated. “That makes me very happy.”
Altogether, the survey team noted, results had a margin of error of 2.77%.
The calls to random landlines and cell phone numbers were made between June 9 and Aug. 24; the average duration of the survey for a respondent was 15 minutes, a chart noted. Samples were controlled for age, gender, race, location and educational levels, the chart added.