Forest Grove city services ranked highest in 15 years
Forest Grove's city services received the highest marks in 15 years according to resident rankings in this year's City Livability Survey, but the city also saw a decline in the favorability ratings for its police and code enforcement services.
During a May Forest Grove City Council meeting, City Manager Jesse VanderZanden said the city's core services received an overall average ranking of 5.5, the highest ranking since the city began asking the same consistent questions about those services in 2006. Those questions were asked in order to assure the city has a consistent baseline performance measurement, he said.
"We thought that was especially encouraging during the pandemic," he said about the survey results. "It might have been in part because of the pandemic."
This year, 752 residents responded to survey questions either through returned utility bills (380 responses) or by answering online (372 responses).
VanderZanden said the idea is if a service is ranked higher or lower in a specific year, the city tries to figure out what might be going on with that particular service and give it a closer look.
"We try to do some level of gap analysis, where if there's a large increase or a marked decrease (we) try to find out what that's attributed to," said VanderZanden. "
Rankings ran from a "very poor" ranking of "1" to a "very well" ranking of 7.
The quality of fire services was given the city's highest ranking this year with an average of 6.41% compared to a 6.35% in 2018, when again it was the highest-ranked service.
The city asked residents an open-ended question about what mattered most to them when it came to fire services with respondents ranking quality of service (62%) and cost of service (30%) as their top to priorities. Who provided that service mattered least (22%).
Overall, 26 of the city's 33 city service rankings were ranked higher than last time with seven services ranking lower, said VanderZanden.
Three city services saw the most significant rise in satisfaction from the previous survey — downtown parking, municipal court and permits and licenses, he said.
"We don't necessarily know why, but we just know that those are the three that went up," VanderZanden said. "This is again a numerical question. It doesn't necessarily allow for people to expand upon why those went up."
VanderZanden said two years ago, the city implemented hourly changes to downtown parking, which may be the reason for the responses. Or, he speculated, it could be something as simple as having more spaces available because of residents staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Areas of decline
"The top three declines, and we had a 3% to 7% decrease here, were crime prevention programs, aquatic center open hours — I would note that the aquatic center was closed a lot at this time due to COVID — and then the quality of police response," VanderZanden said.
He continued: "Possible explanations for the declines are COVID restrictions mandated at the Aquatic Center, and then we've recently had some police issues, and we think that that may have impacted some of the police rankings."
In separate incidents last October, a man died after being Tasered during an altercation with police, and a family called 9-1-1 on an off-duty officer who allegedly pounded on a "Black Lives Matter" flag over their garage and yelled at the occupants to come out and fight during the middle of the night.
Pamplin Media Group reported that off-duty officer, Steven Teets — who was later charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct — was the same officer who used a Taser on James Marshall before he went into a coma and died at a local hospital earlier that month. (The Washington County District Attorney's Office has said officers broke no laws in their encounter with Marshall, and an official autopsy report concluded Marshall had methamphetamine in his system and died due to a state of "excited delirium.")
Additionally, one of the officers who responded to the 9-1-1 call, Bradley Schuetz, was indicted last month for official misconduct after he allegedly gave Teets a ride home instead of arresting him.
Pamplin Media Group also reported recently that a third officer, Darren Pomeroy, improperly used facial recognition software to profile a protester carrying an "anti-fascist action" flag at a peaceful demonstration last June.
The city's livability survey also asked an open-ended question regarding the top three issues facing the city.
"Some issues that were receiving numerous mentions — and these are not necessarily in priority, they just received numerous mentions — were support for police, police accountability, police training, cultural sensitivity, affordable housing and increasing rent costs, and not enough enforcement and speeding and traffic," VanderZanden said.
Other recurring issues that respondents mentioned included:
• Working on solutions for the homeless population
• Supporting small businesses and the economy
• Assuring infrastructure and maintaining roads
Low rankings of 1-3 allowed for a follow-up question by survey-takers of "What are we doing wrong?" with those responses shared with department directors.
In this case, like in 2018, enforcement of codes (which involve citizen complaints such as junked cars, noise, zoning and other nuisances) ranked an average of 4.43, the lowest department score for the 2021 survey. It also ranked lowest in 2018.
The next lowest was a 4.51 for building permits, planning permits and other development assistance, which also ranked second to the lowest in 2018 as well.
Crime prevention programs received a 4.67 rating, down sharply from 5.01 in the 2018 report.
Quality of police response, while not ranking among the lowest-rated city services, also dipped to 5.44 from 5.62 in 2018.
The results may not be fully representative of Forest Grove's population.
The overwhelming majority (43%) of those who took the survey lived in the northwest area of the city, followed by the southeast (18%), southwest (16%) and northeast (14%).
In addition, the majority of the responses came from those over age 55 who had lived in the city for a decade or longer.
U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that the median age of Forest Grove residents is about 33.5 years old.
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