Prince William County Citizen-Satisfaction Survey, Washington Post

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In Survey, Services Get High Marks, But Residents Unhappy With Growth, Roads

WashingtonPost.com: News > Metro > Virginia > Prince William

By JOHN BENNER
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2003

A recent survey indicates that although Prince William residents are happy with government services overall, they are much less satisfied with growth and transportation. The annual poll, conducted by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia, included results from 1,484 people polled by telephone in the spring. The results were presented at last week's Board of County Supervisors meeting.

County residents rated their satisfaction with life in Prince William at 7.25 on a scale of 10. Survey director Thomas Guterbock said he had seen higher ratings only "in areas that are less urbanized, that don't face the traffic problems." Of the 55 categories on the survey, eight received lower than a 60 percent satisfaction rating. Seven of those related to development and roads.

The survey showed that 89.6 percent of residents were satisfied with government services and that 82.8 percent said they were getting good value for their tax dollars. "It's interesting that they have maintained such a high quality-of-life rating in the face of traffic and growth," Guterbock said. He said that was likely because residents are pleased with the personal service they get at libraries and tax offices, for example. "It seems from the survey that at every level, the staff is committed to customer service," he said.

But residents were less satisfied with the county's pace of growth. Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large) said he expected that would affect voters' thinking during the upcoming elections in November. "The citizen survey confirms that the overwhelming majority want us to work differently on these issues," Connaughton said.

Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (I-Gainesville) said the county was moving in the right direction on growth and that lack of cooperation on transportation was at the core of the dissatisfaction about development.

"Through our bond issues, Prince William has shown its commitment on this," Wilbourn said. "We can do the intra-county part, but when we get people to [Interstates] 66, 95 and highways 28 and 29, we need help from the state."

Even though respondents were least satisfied with development and roads, a majority said the county was doing an acceptable job. Only two county issues in the survey got less than a 50 percent satisfaction rating. Slightly less than half of respondents -- 49.5 percent -- said they were happy with the pace of growth in the county. Coordination of development with the road system received a 42.8 percent satisfaction rating. The only other item that got support from less than half of residents polled: Just 33.1 percent said they were happy with the ease of travel around Northern Virginia outside of Prince William County.

The survey showed a continuing climb in respondents' perception that they are getting their money's worth. In 1993, 65 percent said they were satisfied that the county was giving them value for their tax dollars. In the 2003 survey, nearly 83 percent said they were satisfied that their money was being spent wisely. In addition, nearly 63 percent said they trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Guterbock called that a high rating when compared with other communities.

The government satisfaction rating of 89.6 percent is a "significant decline from last year," according to the survey organization. The rating was 92.9 percent last year and has averaged about 92 percent in the preceding 10 years. Connaughton said that might be the result of the county's rapid growth, in which new residents would need some time to become acclimated.

Guterbock said the results "could have something to do with its being an election year." He theorized that media coverage tended to focus on contentious debates, lowering residents' perception that the government was running smoothly.

The county paid $55,000 for the survey, which has been conducted for the past 11 years.