Resident Survey Finds Shifts In Satisfaction With County

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008

Prince William County's annual resident satisfaction survey provides useful information about what kind of job the county is doing. But Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) questioned its credibility this year and how useful it is to conduct the survey annually.

Overall satisfaction with county services was about 89 percent, nearly the same as last year. Satisfaction increased in some areas, including for how the county is dealing with growth, development and transportation.

But the news was not all good.

Even though the stubborn trifecta of Prince William government -- growth, development and transportation -- has improved, satisfaction in each area hovers around 55 percent, and the issues remain among the bottom five issues in resident satisfaction.

General satisfaction with the job the county is doing in giving residents value for their tax dollars dropped since last year, from 80.2 to 74.8 percent. Residents should be warned that even though supervisors raised the average homeowner's tax bill by 5 percent this year, more tough budget decisions loom.

Nearly six out of 10 respondents (58.6 percent) said they thought the county could be trusted most of the time. That's down from 64.1 percent last year, and it's lower than it was in 2004 and 2005.

Prince William has funded the annual survey for 16 years. The county should be applauded for taking an objective look at itself every year. Most jurisdictions don't pay a third party to tell them how they are doing.

As with any poll, though, elected officials and county decision-makers can highlight the numbers that put them in the most favorable light.

For instance, supporters of the county's illegal-immigration enforcement can say that 80.5 percent of residents were satisfied with police efforts to enforce the new policy. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Eighty percent of people who answered the question said that. But to get the full, and more telling picture, it is accurate to say that about 60 percent of residents said they are satisfied with how police are carrying out the illegal-immigration policy. Fourteen percent of those surveyed were dissatisfied, 7 percent opposed the policy and 17 percent provided no opinion.

Stewart said he wanted the survey to examine what residents thought about the policy itself, not just how it is being carried out.

"We have not taken on the job of doing referenda on policy itself," said Thomas M. Guterbock, director of the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia and the study's principal investigator.

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