Survey says city of Aspen does well and not so well
This year’s city of Aspen citizen survey results show that the work being done by those in City Hall are for the most part reflective of what residents care about.
Taking a completely different approach to this year’s survey compared with previous years, the questions delivered to residents this time centered around strategic focus areas like economic vitality and Aspen as a community of choice for people to live in, among others.
While residents generally give the city government high marks for providing services and report that the quality of life is excellent here, affordability is a major concern for people.
Less than 10% agreed that young families can afford to live and work here, according to survey results.
And less than half are satisfied with making Aspen a livable community of choice, being customer focused and fostering economic vitality.
That translates into the availability of affordable housing, child care, locally serving and priced businesses and restaurants, as well as less traffic congestion and more parking options.
In other words, issues that the city has been working on for decades with varying degrees of success and failure.
More recently, the city has been putting money and energy toward building potentially hundreds of units near the Aspen Business Center and providing more child care opportunities.
“There is a good degree of alignment with citizens and what the city is working on,” said Karen Harrington, the city’s quality director. “It’s good to hear that.”
The city selected a different vendor this year, Colorado Springs-based Elevated Insights, from what the government used for the past decade.
Mailed in paper form, previous surveys focused primarily on service quality delivered by the municipal government.
“We were missing the broader issues,” Harrington said. “We wanted to bring that survey in alignment.”
This year’s was done almost entirely electronically, whether respondents filled the survey out online or via email.
About 4,500 letters were distributed directing people to the survey online.
It also was administered electronically to all registered voters and all tenants or owners of Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and city-owned housing.
Out of the thousands of people who could’ve filled out the survey, only 528 people did, providing just under a 9% response rate.
Harrington said that is an acceptable response rate in the world of statistically valid survey data.
By comparison, last year’s survey had just over 300 respondents out of a pool of 1,750 who were randomly selected.
Acknowledging that there are areas to work on, staff and Aspen City Council on Monday agreed during a work session that they are generally pleased on what they’ve heard from residents.
“There’s a lot to think about … a lot of thought-provoking stuff,” Harrington told council. “But it doesn’t give you the answers.”
Council members Rachel Richards and Ward Hauenstein both said having government solve the bigger economic issues in a resort town where the cost of living is so high is beyond challenging.
“There are a few things up there that we have a hard time controlling,” Richards said, adding that wages are stagnant. “A lot of these things will be very difficult and expensive to carry out.”
A majority of respondents said they want the city to reduce development from outside entities; less than one-third felt the city handles development pressures well.
And less than half of respondents feel their needs for information from the city are being met and less than half of them are satisfied with the city’s customer focus, saying that the city should seek feedback earlier in the process before making development decisions, according to Harrington.
A number of residents don’t feel that Aspen is good place to retire, requesting that the city increase senior living options. Some mentioned that a lack of health care and specialists would make it difficult to retire in the Aspen area.
In terms of a city being customer-focused, trusting the government is a key driver of satisfaction for residents.
However, less than 50% said they have that trust.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents don’t believe the city matches spending with community priorities and 58% don’t believe the city has sound financial policies.
That’s despite the city’s strong rating in the financial world. City officials acknowledged that educating the public on how it spends taxpayer money would help build that trust.
Mayor Torre said the survey results are insightful and can provide a path for future decision making.
“Living in Aspen, in my sense, is the best place possible but it comes with challenges,” he said.
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