BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Councilors meeting February 7 heard a presentation from Brandon Barnett, a Polco Survey Research Team Manager, on results of the 2022 Los Alamos County Community Survey (National Community SurveyTM )conducted in January. Somewhere towards the mid-section of the presentation, Barnett discussed the community’s input on County Governance, which was rated lower in the 2022 survey than the 2020 survey.
Overall confidence in County government was rated as follows
- 32 % Poor
- 33% Fair
- 30% Good
- 5% Excellent
- 24% Poor
- 28% Fair
- 39% Good
- 9% Excellent
Although the agenda packet for the Council meeting stated that results from the survey would be used “to inform strategic planning, budgeting and decision-making to better meet the community’s needs and expectations”, there was no real discussion of what would or could be done by Council to change the apparent lack of confidence in County government reflected in the survey results. The open-ended comments submitted by those who participated in the survey were not made available to the public until the day after the Council meeting.
Some councilors indicated that they had not received the entire report, including the open-ended comments from survey participants until the day before the meeting and did not have time to review all the material provided.
Later in the meeting, Council’s Strategic Leadership Plan was revised almost word by word by Council Chair Denise Derkacs while taking input and suggestions from individual councilors. The Strategic Leadership Plan was then approved by a 6-1 vote with Council David Reagor voting no. The tickler for upcoming Council meetings does not reflect any discussion of the low and declining ratings for governance in the survey in all 10 issues addressed. Also, a County spokesperson told the Los Alamos Reporter that “at this time it doesn’t appear Council has any plans to address the results or go over them in any more detail at the Council meetings than they already have”.
Barnett in his presentation noted that Governance was one of the facets in which Polco saw a decline in ratings.
“Ratings for governance tend to trend down from results in previous iteration. About half the respondents offered positive ratings of services for taxes paid, treating residents with respect, treating all residents fairly. While some items remained on par with national averages, the overall direction that Los Alamos is taking, overall confidence is Los Alamos government and fairly acting in the best interest of the community are below the national benchmarks,” he said. “This is a trend that we’ve seen in most communities we’ve surveyed this year that also have previous trend data to apply”.
The ratings in the Governance section are as follows:
- Value of services for taxes paid to Los Alamos County (LAC): Down from 67% in 2020 to 57% in 2022
- Overall direction LAC is taking: Down from 48% to 35%
- The job LAC does at welcoming resident involvement: Down from 59% to 39%
- Overall confidence in LAC government: Down from 48% to 36%
- Generally acting in the best interest of the community: Down from 49% to 38%
- Being honest: Down from 49% to 42%
- Being open and transparent to the public: Down from 45% to 37%
- Informing residents about issues facing the community: Down from 50% to 43%
- Treating residents fairly: Down from 55% to 45%
- Treating residents with respect: Down from 63% to 53%
The survey results indicate that the overall quality of the transportation system and natural environment were higher than the national benchmarks and that the overall feeling of safety was much higher while the quality of the utility infrastructure was lower.
Barnett said of the 123 survey items for which residents provided evaluative ratings, 30 received ratings higher than the national benchmarks, 5 of which were actually much higher.
“Sixty-one received similar ratings and 32 received lower ratings, 11 of which were much lower. The 5 that were much higher were safety, easy of travel by public transportation, the availability of paths and walking trails, bus or transit services and Los Alamos County open space,” he said.
Barnett said the first key finding of the survey was that most residents feel a strong sense of safety in Los Alamos County. He said nearly all ratings for safety scored on par with or higher than national benchmark comparisons.
“Close to 96 percent of residents positively rated the overall feeling of safety in Los Alamos County, which scored higher than comparison communities nationwide. Virtually all residents, roughly 98 percent said that they felt very safe or somewhat safe in their neighborhood during the day and in the downtown commercial areas during the day. Similarly, 9 in 10 reported feelings of safety from property crime and violent crime, however only about 6 in 10 reported feeling safe from fire, flood or other natural disasters, which was a 7-point decline from the 2020 survey and scored lower than national average,” he said.
Barnett said the County’s safety services also received high marks from respondents. About 9 in 10 gave positive responses to fire services like ambulance or emergency medical services, crime prevention and police services and fire prevention education. A little more than 8 in 10 were positive about animal control and emergency preparedness, he said.
“Both crime prevention and emergency preparedness scored higher than national averages,” he said.
Barnett said residents offered high ratings of importance (88% essential or very important) and lower ratings around quality (64% excellent or good) to the overall economic health of Los Alamos County, suggesting that the economy is a priority and an area of focus for the community.
“Roughly 8 in 10 residents positively rated Los Alamos County as a place to work, and employment opportunities are on the rise, jumping 13 points since 2020 (49% excellent or good in 2022; compared to 36% in 2020). Conversely, shopping opportunities and the variety of business and service establishments were favorably evaluated by less than 1 in 10 participants, both scoring much lower than national benchmarks,” Barnett said. “Declines were seen in ratings of the overall quality of business and service establishments (32% excellent or good in 2022; compared to 41% in 2020) and economic development (20% excellent or good in 2022; compared to 29% in 2020). Ratings related to affordability also tended to be low, indicating a potential opportunity for growth. Cost of living was rated positively by only about 14% of residents, and when asked what impact, if any, the economy would likely have on their family income in the next six months, only 12% of residents expected the impact to be somewhat or very positive, both scoring lower than the national benchmark.”
He said when asked which aspects of the community the County should focus on in the next two years, 95% of residents identified the overall utility infrastructure as a priority. About half the respondents gave high marks to the quality of the utilities infrastructure, a 23 point drop since 2020.
“Stormwater management and drinking water were rated higher than national averages as well as sewer services and garbage collection. All had strong ratings with close to 9 in 10 residents offering good to excellent reviews,” Barnett said.
Power, electrical and gas utilities showed a significant decline since 2020 – down from 87 percent to 62 percent – indicating a potential area of focus, he noted. Only 4 in 10 residents positively evaluated affordable high-speed internet access. Barnett said roughly 9 out of 10 residents gave high marks to their neighborhoods as a place to live with a similar proportion giving positive ratings to the preservation of the historical or cultural character of the community.
“There was a similar proportion of items lower than the benchmarks as compared to 2020. Well-planned residential and commercial growth were given positive ratings by less than 2 in 10 residents, scoring much lower than the national average. Housing affordability and variety presented as an area of opportunity as both scored much lower as well but we did not see declines from the previous iteration,” Barnett said.
The overall health and wellness opportunities and residents’ overall health received positive ratings from about three-quarters of residents. Similarly to other facets, affordability is an area of opportunity but the availability of affordable quality food, quality health care and quality mental health care are all declining from the 2020 survey scoring lower than national measurements.
To read additional information from the survey, particularly the responses to the open-ended questions, go to the following links:
National Community SurveyTM – Comparison Report (Demographics) Report
National Community SurveyTM – Statistical Significance Thresholds Report
National Community SurveyTM – Responses to the Open-ended Questions (13, 15 and 17)