Council hears results of 2013 community survey

While residents continue to think Lake Oswego is overall a great place to live, satisfaction with the city government is continuing a slow but steady decline.

That’s according to results of the city’s 2013 community survey, conducted by Portland-based CFM Strategic Communications Inc.

The firm surveyed 400 residents by phone, including cellphone, and thousands more filled out the questionnaire online. A final report focused on the phone results, considered statistically valid; there was no guarantee people filling out the online version didn’t submit their responses multiple times.

The results, reported to the city council on Tuesday, had a 4 percent margin of error.

Participants rated the city 8.6 out of 10 as a great place to live — a question asked in city surveys since 1991 — and most said the city has maintained its identity as the region’s population has grown.

But they rated their satisfaction with local government as 3.3 on a five-point scale, an overall decrease of 0.5 points since 2005 — a trend in line with other cities in the state, according to CFM. “Improper budgeting and spending” were cited as a key factor driving disapproval of local government.

At the same time, 52 percent of respondents thought the city made efficient use of tax dollars, while 36 percent felt it did not spend tax money wisely.

Half of the residents surveyed felt the city should cut or eliminate some services to focus on funding core services such as the police and fire departments, sewer projects and street work, although it was unclear which programs they’d be willing to part with.

On the topic of regulations, respondents reported city rules met community needs when it comes to neighborhood character and design, building codes, streams and wetlands, commercial signs and industrial and commercial businesses. But a majority felt tree regulations are too strong, and opinions were mixed on whether the city’s program protecting environmentally sensitive lands met community needs or goes beyond what’s necessary. The report noted that people generally reacted more positively to terms such as “streams and wetlands” than “sensitive lands.”

The Lake Oswego Review newspaper was named the top source of news about the city by 63 percent of participants, followed by the city’s own Hello LO newsletter, named by 58 percent. Word of mouth was next, with 32 percent, followed by The Oregonian, at 27 percent.

CFM recommended the city continue its efforts to communicate with the public, saying governments with effective communication typically have higher trust levels and better reputations with the general public.

The city employs a few people, including the public affairs manager, who handle communications. The public affairs manager's job is on the chopping block in ongoing budget discussions, along with positions in the economic development department, planning department, parks and, potentially, the sustainability program. The budget committee meets at 6 p.m. today at city hall.

Councilor Donna Jordan questioned whether the city was taking advantage of social media sources to reach out to people.

Christine Kirk, the public affairs manager, noted the city does use both, and over the past few years she’s managed the accounts their followings have grown. They’re especially effective for sending people brief but important information about public safety issues, she said.

“It’s been amazingly useful when it comes to getting out information quickly when we want to,” she said.

The city conducts community attitude polls every two or three years. This time around, it was difficult to identify whether residents’ opinions were based on activities related to the past council or the sitting members of the city’s governing body, according to consultants.

The next community survey, recommended for fall in a nonelection year, will likely yield more conclusive results, according to CFM.

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