National Citizen Survey: DeKalb may be a college town.

Yep, DeKalb did another survey last fall, this time the National Citizen Survey administered by the National Research Center at the University of Colorado. About 400 towns, cities and other jurisdictions take the same survey each year, so we not only have ratings given by our own residents but can see how DeKalb stacks up to the other participating communities when it comes to delivering city services and responding to the major issues we face.

What you’ll find here first is a quick overview of the survey methodology as well as a summary of some of the results. (Quotes come from the NCS 2006 Summary Report and/or the Staff Summary prepared for the 2/20/2006 city council workshop unless otherwise noted.) Then I’ll re-visit the DeKalb “identity crisis” issue and the downtown revitalization plan in terms of the Survey results.

The response rate to the 1200 mailed surveys was a respectable 34%, giving the survey a margin of error of five points either way. Respondents evaluated each question as excellent, good, fair or poor (EGFP) and for many of the questions the results were evaluated on a 100-point scale where “excellent” equals 100 points, “good” is worth 67 points, etc. In a separate section, respondents answered three policy questions specific to DeKalb on a 5-point scale ranging from “strongly support” to “strongly oppose.”

There are two things especially to keep in mind when it comes to results. One is that cities participating in the survey tend to be well-managed ones to begin with. The second is that the public perception of quality of life in a community is affected by perceptions of the economy as a whole–and in this survey, fully one-third of respondents answered “somewhat negative” or “very negative” to this question: “What impact, if any, do you think the economy will have on your family income in the next six months?”

Residents rated the city highest in terms of perception of public safety and delivery of city services such as emergency services, public transit, stormwater management and services for low-income people. Public safety is considered especially important:

Few mid-size cities can make the claim that its residents feel safe everywhere in the community, day and night. The perception of public safety is an important factor in promoting the revitalization of the downtown and for attracting the kinds of knowledge based industries DeKalb hopes to attract.

Residents rated the overall quality of life in DeKalb as 62% excellent or good, 38% fair or poor. This level of satisfaction is below the norm when compared to other communities, and echoes the ratings for quality of housing (Policy Question #2) and for living, raising children, and retiring in DeKalb.

Crime prevention, traffic signal timing, public parking and drinking water were also viewed below the norm as were the schools and the City’s overall image. Those surveyed felt that DeKalb does not provide a good value for the taxes paid and is lacking in employment opportunities.

If you were at the 4th Ward meeting a few weeks ago, you heard a complaint about the numbers of vehicles running red lights in town. Then you heard a city employee say that the problem might not be one of law enforcement so much as a matter of needing to change the traffic light timing. So here we have an example of their trying to incorporate Survey information into their thinking. Brownie point.

Areas where DeKalb surveyed similar to the norm include:

–Community characteristics such as sense of community, openness and acceptance towards people of diverse background, and overall quality of new development;

–Access and mobility;

–Quality of leisure services such as parks and library;

–Utility services;

–Planning and Code enforcement;

–Contact with City Employees; and

–Public trust issues such as the city’s overall direction, openness to citizen involvement and listening to citizens.

Also at the 4th Ward meeting, staff talked about stepping up code enforcement. Another Brownie point.

How about growth? Folks think that the city is growing too fast (50%) but that job opportunities are sorely lacking (76%).

Since population growth and job creation generally go hand-in-hand, reconciling this conflict between these two competing concerns is likely to be one of the most important policy issues facing City government over the next few years.

Breaking: DeKalb may be a college town

About a year ago, I worked on a political campaign for a city office. The candidate was a retired NIU professor. At an organizational meeting he was advised not to wear his Huskies sweatshirt at public appearances or otherwise play up this affiliation. I remember also that a couple of letters to the editor questioned how this person might be more loyal to NIU than to the city, as in: whose side is he on?

In a previous post we discussed Community Development Director Paul Rasmussen’s description of DeKalb as having a “fragmented self-image.”

Between these experiences, guess how I’m interpreting the results of this policy question that the city added to the Survey:

Policy Question #1: Please indicate the degree to which you agree or disagree with the following statement: “DeKalb is a university town in a rural setting with a vital industrial and commercial base.”

Strongly agree……………………20%
Somewhat agree…………………53%
Neither agree nor disagree….. 8%
Somewhat disagree……………. 16%
Strongly disagree………………. 3%

Maybe some people could not “strongly agree” because of the word “vital,” but that’s not the bet I would take. Is anyone willing to take a road trip with me to Madison? I don’t think they have this problem. I want to know their secret.

Wrecking ball time

From the March 24 Daily Chronicle:

The Downtown DeKalb Revitalization Task Force held its first meeting Friday at city hall. The 20-member group is made up of downtown business owners and other stakeholders, including representatives from the park district, plan commission and Main Street DeKalb.

Its job is to work with city officials and economic development consultant Hitchcock Design Group to put together a redevelopment plan for DeKalb’s downtown.

Members were given paper and crayons by Community Development Director Russ Farnum and instructed to draw their vision of downtown while brainstorming improvements they would like to see.

Steve Milner of Milner Real Estate drew a wrecking ball.

“We can’t save every building in downtown,” he said. “Not every building is a historic building.”

Where did they get the chutzpah to dream this big? Policy Question #3 on the NCS:

To what extent do you support or oppose the use of public funds to revitalize and redevelop downtown DeKalb?

Strongly support……………………32%
Somewhat support…………………40%
Neither support nor oppose……. 16%
Somewhat oppose………………….. 6%
Strongly oppose…………………….. 6%

City staff seem very excited about this. Can you blame them? This is the mother of all green lights. I happen to agree. I told Mr. Rasmussen, “Go as drastic as you need to, or don’t bother at all.”

The task force is considering a town square. Where should it go?