city satisfaction: survey gives public services fair marks

by jack colwell
tribune political writer

south bend--a survey of what south bend residents think of their city shows they are dissatisfied most of all with the public schools. but, they are satisfied in general with most city services.

their no. 1 suggestion is that the city should strive to reduce crime and violence.

their level of satisfaction is higher in most categories than it was in a similar survey two years earlier.

results of the survey, conducted by summit group of milwaukee, were released monday.

thomas r. beug, chief executive officer of the consultant firm, said the survey should be regarded as good news for the city, especially in view of satisfaction improvement and the high rating for most of the services regarded by respondents as highly important.

but beug said the goal of the survey isn't to provide report-card evaluation of passing and flunking but rather to show what residents are most concerned about and enable city officials a plan for targeting of resources.

mayor stephen j. luecke was delighted with the results, particularly with the politically significant 68 percent saying that city government "is providing leadership to accomplish" its mission.

in fact, luecke said he withheld release of the information earlier this year because he wanted to avoid any suggestions that he was timing it or had somehow skewed it for his benefit while facing challenges in the democratic primary election.

the survey, conducted in 1998, involved mailing of 10,000 detailed survey forms to south bend residents. answers were provided by about 2,200 residents, considered by beug to be a high return for that type of survey. the city paid just over $20,000 for the survey, similar to one conducted in 1996 and permitting a comparison to determine whether satisfaction was up or down and where.

some key findings:

* schools rank last. satisfaction with public schools, evaluated on a scale from 1 (worst) to 5 (best), was just 2.9. that was the worst score for of 20 listed areas of service.

* fire and police rank high. tops was the fire department, with 4.5. police had 4.0. a related public safety function, ambulance service, had 4.1.

* street maintenance and neighborhood code enforcement need improvement. they tied for the lowest scores for city services, each with 3.0.

* crime is a concern. when asked what must be done to make south bend a model city, 31 percent listed reducing crime and violence. nothing else, not even improving education, reached 20 percent.

* it's a personal thing with crime for some. eighteen percent said they had personally been a victim of crime in the prior year. burglary and robbery were each listed by about a third of those citing personal experience. but shootings, gangs and illegal guns were listed as the greatest crime concerns.

* there is no widespread concern about race relations. three out of four respondents said they regarded race and ethnic-group relations as about the same as in other cities of similar size. better, said 12 percent; worse, said 13 percent.

* what counts most had far different counts. the most important services, both 4.8 on the scale of 5, were schools, which had such a low performance rating, and police, at the high end of the scale.

* things are getting better. in virtually every area, satisfaction increased or remained the same in a comparison with the 1996 survey.

* there could be a moving experience. thirty percent of respondents said they are thinking of moving. but 28 percent of those said they would move to another south bend location. elsewhere in st. joseph county was cited by 37 percent and out of the area was contemplated by 35 percent. wanting a different type of home was listed as the reason for a move by 30 percent, with concern for crime next at 13 percent.

* downtown is nice. the downtown and east race area got good grades for being attractive and clean-- 3.9 ratings each--and 42 percent said the business climate in the city is good, compared with 22 percent saying it isn't good.

* city workers do ok. they were rated at 3.4 on the scale of 5 for doing their job well, with helpful and courteous listed as characteristics with a 3.5 rating.

* news media get a mixed review. fifty percent said the news media provide accurate reports on crime, compared with 27 percent with a neutral view and 23 percent saying it's not accurate. thirty-six percent said the news media put too much emphasis on crime.

* but it's a nice place. when asked what they would tell a friend about south bend, 54 percent said the story would be positive. only a fourth said it would be negative, while 21 percent would have a neutral comment.

beug stressed that the survey is not a poll, such as the scientific opinion polls which seek a response from a selected sampling on elections. he said it is similar to the surveys mailed out by firms such as restaurant chains to see what their customers think about the service.

luecke said information already has been used to target some areas where the "customers" think improvements are needed, including channeling more resources for streets.


comparing the city

a comparison of south bend to other cities of similar size and whether south bend is better, the same or worse in these categories:

category better same worse
streets 9% 53% 38%
public schools 9% 58% 33%
personal safety 9% 70% 21%
job opportunities 17% 62% 21%
residential housing 19% 66% 15%
race/ethnic relations 12% 75% 13%

source: summit group survey


what do we have to do to become a model city?

reduce crime and violence 31%
improve education 17%
improve aesthetics, physical appearance 18%
improve job market, business opportunities 10%
improve infrastructure 6%
provide more shopping/entertainment 9%

source: summit group survey


here's how south bend residents rate services:

level of satisfaction importance of services

fire department 4.5 4.6
ambulance 4.1 - 4.5
mayor's office 4.0 - 4.6
police department 4.0 - 4.8
parks 3.8 - 4.4
snow removal 3.8 - 4.3
trash removal 3.8 - 4.4
water 3.8 - 4.4
sewer 3.7 - 4.3
building department 3.7 - 4.1
median-city services 3.7 - 4.3
mean-city services 3.6 - 4.3
public transportation 3.6 - 4.3
recreation 3.6 - 4.3
animal control 3.5 - 4.0
neighborhood development 3.3 - 4.4
redevelopment 3.2 - 4.3
business assistance 3.2 - 4.1
housing assistance 3.1 - 3.8
street maintenance 3.0 - 4.6
neighborhood code enforcement 3.0 - 4.3
public schools 2.9 - 4.8

source: summit group survey

article: © south bend tribune -- june 15, 1999