The Center for Research and Public Policy contacted 1001 Alexandrians and asked them 93 questions about their quality of life, reasons for living in Alexandria, satisfaction with city services and trust in elected and appointed officials. The city of Alexandria conducted the 2004 community survey during the week of Sept. 13-21. The survey has an error rate of plus/minus three percent and a confidence rating of 95 percent.
“This survey is part of the council’s continuing effort to improve city government,” said city manager Philip Sunderland. “Its primary purpose is to tell us where the city may be falling short in our delivery of services, programs, and public infrastructure to residents.
“Resident responses that identify areas needing improvements will result in actions designed to produce those improvements. Future surveys will be used to determine whether those improvements have been achieved,” he said.
On quality of life: 97 percent of those surveyed said quality of life in Alexandria is very good or good. The top 10 reasons that respondents gave for living in the city were convenient in general; near D.C.; friendly people; cultural diversity; city has personality; convenient for work; size of community; feels like a small town; everything in walking distance and town is wonderful.
When asked to identify areas of concern, respondents identified traffic, taxes and schools. “These answers were given to an open-ended question,” Sunderland said. 15.4 percent said traffic, 12.1 percent said taxes and 8.4 percent said schools.
Traffic and taxes were no surprise to Sunderland. “I think we all know that traffic is a problem and is getting worse,” Sunderland said. “There is only so much we can do about this issue as we are part of a large metropolitan region. I do believe that Alexandrians and others will see a huge difference in traffic congestion after the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project is completed. I think things will improve.”
As to taxes, “We are going to have another year of increased real estate assessments,” Sunderland said. “I think we need to do more about reducing the tax rate for home owners.” The issue of schools is a bit more difficult. City Council allocates funds to Alexandria's schools, but can not direct how the funds are used. “In Virginia, cities don’t run public school systems,” Sunderland said. “Therefore, we can’t control the quality of the school system; we only control the funding.”
When respondents were given a choice of issues, traffic and taxes were still numbers one and two on the concern list crime in the city was number three. The lack of affordable housing was number four.
SURVEY RESPONDENTS were impressed with the Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, the Police Department; the courtesy of city government staff; parks and recreation facilities and refuse and leaf collection services. Eighty-three percent said that the city meets or exceeds their service expectations always or most of the time; 81 percent felt that city staff were always courteous and helpful.
There were departments that did not rate as well as Sunderland would have hoped. Only 52 percent were pleased with sanitary and storm sewer services.
“We know this is a problem and are embarking on a $12 million storm and sanitary sewer renovation and replacement project,” Sunderland said.
The condition of local roads was also cited as a concern by 63 percent of those surveyed. City snow removal received only a 57 percent approval rating and parking availability in neighborhoods was seen as acceptable by only 57 percent of those surveyed. Only 30 percent of those surveyed were happy with parking availability in Old Town and other business districts in the city. “The King Street Retail Study has indicated that there really are plenty of parking spaces in Old Town but they are not accessible,” Sunderland said. “That’s an issue we will be working on as part of that study.”
Over all, Sunderland was pleased with the results of the survey. “All in all, citizens in Alexandria are pretty happy with life in Alexandria and with city services,” he said.
The mayor, too, was pleased. “I am very pleased to see that most residents surveyed said their quality of life is very good in Alexandria and that they gave high satisfaction ratings to most city services,” said Mayor William D. Euille. “The council will use the results of this survey, along with the adopted strategic plan to develop initiatives for the city’s future.”
A summary of the survey’s findings is available on the city Web site: www.alexandriava.gov and will be published in an upcoming issue of FYI, the city’s newsletter.