Rocky Fork Enterprise

Survey:

City's services good but tax hike unwanted

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Most Gahanna residents oppose raising the city's income tax, but they like the direction the city is heading, its leaders and economic development efforts, according to a survey released last week.

Dr. Hugh Clark, of CJI Research Corporation, provided a 126-page report on Feb. 28 that is the result of a 400 resident telephone survey that was conducted after the November election. The interviews were done by trained interviewers from Foresight Research of Rochester, Mich.

The community survey sought feedback on quality of life in Gahanna, the job performance of city officials, satisfaction with city services, major city initiatives including Creekside, the possibility of a city income tax hike, and where residents find their local news.

The 2010 survey cost $18,500 and was a follow-up to a benchmark survey taken in October 2008 that involved 920 registered voters. The cost of the original survey was $34,000.

Assistant city administrator Brandi Braun said it's critical to engage residents so Gahanna can be the city its residents want over the next five years.

"We believe it is imperative to gauge our performance levels as well as ensure we are providing services that are aligned with the expectations of our residents," she wrote in a note to city directors.

Clark said about two-thirds or 68 percent of those surveyed believe that things are headed in the right direction in Gahanna.

When asked to define the right direction or wrong track, many respondents mentioned Creekside and the local schools.

"To many Creekside represents a progressive, appealing aspect of city life," he said. "To a smaller, but significant number of people, it presents an overreach by the city."

In surveying the perceived value of Creekside to Gahanna, 60 percent of the respondents said it was worthwhile to develop because the old downtown area needed more parking, improvements to Creekside Park and additional space for public events and new businesses. Thirty-one percent of the respondents said Creekside wasn't worthwhile, and 9 percent were not sure.

No matter what residents thought about Creekside, 93 percent of the respondents in 2010 and 90 percent in 2008 said they had visited Creekside. Of those visiting Creekside last year, 43 percent said they had been into Creekside once a month or more often, and another 31 percent had been there once every two or three months for a total of 74 percent saying they use Creekside often or at least regularly.

When asked what's the most important challenge facing the city, 24 percent of the respondents said schools; 21 percent, finances; 14 percent, taxes; 8 percent, jobs/economy; 6 percent, Creekside; 6 percent, traffic; 2 percent, police; and 2 percent, improvements.

Clark said many respondents spoke well of the schools and lamented the defeat of the levy.

"Others decried what they perceive as wasteful spending by the schools," Clark said.

Sixty-four percent of survey respondents oppose raising the city income tax from 1.5 to 2.5 percent. When told that only earned income tax would be taxed and that maintenance of city facilities would depend on passage, opposition decreased to 56 percent.

Those residents who work outside of Gahanna tend to work in Columbus where they already pay 2.5 percent income tax. Clark said those residents are especially opposed to the increase, while those living and working in Gahanna are split, with 51 disapproving and 48 percent approving.

Survey participants continued to believe city services were a good value or very good value for the taxes paid. A total of 73 percent of respondents rated the services as very good (25 percent) or good (48 percent). Most others did not suggest that services are poor value, but only that they are average rather than good or very good.

Among city services, the best rated was park maintenance, which received a 99 percent positive rating. The lowest rated function, street maintenance, still had a 90 percent positive rating, Clark said.

Comparing 2008 to 2010, ratings of separate departmental functions remained constant or improved for five of nine functions. Collection of trash and yard waste improved substantially. Snow removal last winter and street maintenance both declined from the "very satisfied" category, moving to the "somewhat satisfied" category.

The mayor continues to receive positive job ratings, with 20 percent rating her performance as excellent and another 39 percent as good for a total of 59 percent positive. Only 8 percent rated her performance as poor or very poor. The rating does indicate a decline from 2008, when 24 percent rated her as excellence and 48 percent as good for a 72 percent in the most positive categories.

Ratings of the city council's job performance also remain generally positive, although lower than the mayor. While a total of 59 percent had rated council's job performance as good or very good in 2008, that percentage decreased to 46 percent by 2010.

Respondents said weekly newspapers continue to be the place they look for local news, with 52 percent getting their local news from weeklies in 2010 compared to 57 percent in 2008.

Other listed sources for news in 2010 included the city's website, 21 percent; social media, 19 percent; Gateway publication, 5 percent; and miscellaneous ways, 2 percent.

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