Survey: Pitkin County quality of life great … traffic, housing not so much |

Survey: Pitkin County quality of life great … traffic, housing not so much

Children and parents in attendance of the Aspen Historical Society’s annual Holden/Marolt Hoedown crowd around Wendy and Tinkerbell, the two miniature horses with Smiling Goat Ranch, in June 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Residents believe Pitkin County’s quality of life and the safety it offers are top notch, though they are concerned about traffic volume, access to affordable housing and growth management.

That’s according to the county’s latest survey of residents, which also indicates that Pitkin County officials have a long way to go in their efforts to effectively communicate with residents.

“Communications should take a huge front seat over the next couple years,” Ryan Murray of ETC Institute, which conducted the survey, told county commissioners Tuesday. “(You should be) ensuring that you’re reaching out to those residents in places where they are” rather than asking people to find the information they want on the outdated county website.

Pitkin County surveys a sampling of residents once every four years to find out the level of satisfaction with county services and ensure the county’s priorities match up with residents’ needs.

The latest survey was conducted in the fall and involved a seven-page set of questions that were mailed to a random sample of residents and took 15-20 minutes to complete, Murray said. A total of 501 of Pitkin County’s approximately 18,000 residents responded.

Overall, 87% of respondents said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the overall quality of life in Pitkin County, while 78% felt the same way about the county as a place to raise children, and 70% were very satisfied or satisfied with it as a place to work, according to Murray’s data. Eighty percent of residents who filled out the survey were very satisfied or satisfied with Pitkin County as a flourishing natural environment.

“In general, people were very satisfied with the county as a place to live … across the board,” he said. “Overall, you’re doing very well.”

Further, 69% of survey respondents were very satisfied or satisfied with the overall quality of services provided. A majority also supported the value provided for Pitkin County’s share of property taxes, though that perceived value dropped more than 6% from the survey’s 2018 results, Murray said.

Pitkin County’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic also received high marks, with 73% of respondents very satisfied or satisfied with the services provided, while 67% felt the same way about the county’s public health response to the virus.

On the negative side, 51% of respondents said they were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with the county’s efforts to address affordable housing, and 52% felt the same way about the county’s management of growth. Just 21% said Pitkin County was managing growth well, compared to a 45% satisfaction rate nationwide, Murray said.

Commissioner Steve Child said he thought many people confused the county with the city of Aspen when it comes to growth management, and suggested that many of the resident comments included in the survey should be shared with city officials.

Murray said effective communication with the public could help solve that problem.

“Residents might not have a great idea of what the (commissioners were) up to with managing growth,” he said.

Better communication also could help people understand the effectiveness of the Board of Commissioners, which just 39% said they were very satisfied or satisfied with.

Two of the most important areas to focus on, according to residents surveyed, are on affordable housing (49%) and managing growth (44%). Those areas are “far and away” the most important to residents, Murray said. Another area that needs focus is traffic volume on major county roads like Maroon Creek, Castle Creek, McLain Flats and others.

“Traffic volume is a huge concern for residents, and I don’t know if we can do anything about that,” Murray said.

The current process for obtaining permits and inspection for construction and renovation projects also did not rank highly, with 55% of those surveyed reporting they were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with it.

Other issues that need attention are the county’s website, which likely needs a face-lift to be more user-friendly and able to facilitate engagement between residents and the county, Murray said. The county’s efforts to prepare residents for natural disasters also requires attention, as just 46% of residents were satisfied with current efforts.

Public safety also was part of the survey, and respondents’ answers caused a bit of confusion, Murray said.

On one hand, overall satisfaction with public safety — including the Sheriff’s Office, the Pitkin County Jail and animal services — was at 74%, which is far below the national average of 87%. On the other hand, 95% said they felt safe, 85% were satisfied with the overall quality and professionalism of the department and 80% were satisfied with the department’s emergency response.

“These are very good ratings here,” Murray said, suggesting that maybe the jail and animal services be separated out in future survey questions.

Commissioners plan to further dissect the data at their upcoming retreat.

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