Payson residents love the outdoors and parks, feel perfectly safe, get most their local news from newspapers, but aren’t too happy about the condition of the streets, according to a just-released, random resident survey.
The town spent months handing out long questionnaires intended to evaluate town services and help the town council set priorities for the next several years.
Only 95 Payson residents and 13 non-residents ended up completing the long list of questions, but the results suggest most residents give the town high marks for police, fire, recreation and water services, but distinctly mixed reviews for the council, streets and planning.
Town Manager Debra Galbraith said the surveys don’t represent a valid random sample of residents’ views, but do offer some insight into the opinions of people involved enough to fill out the forms.
“It’s not a valid random sample,” said Galbraith on Tuesday as she presented the results to the town council, “but it shows what people liked and didn’t like.”
The survey offered a mostly upbeat assessment of town services — at least for the period before the council voted to shut down town hall on Fridays and lay off some full time and all the seasonal workers to avert a proposed budget deficit.
Some 70 to 90 percent of those surveyed professed themselves satisfied or very satisfied with the key town services — including parks, recreation programs, police and fire protection.
Residents had substantially more complaints about the condition of the streets and about code enforcement efforts to reduce the number of houses with trash and clutter or weeds heaped in the front yard.
Code enforcement wanted
“Code enforcement was clearly one of the big things,” Galbraith told the council on Tuesday during a study session focused on the need to come up with a new, long-term strategic plan for the town.
She said respondents wanted better code enforcement.
The survey harbored good news in terms of rating town services, but not-so-good news for a council struggling to maintain services in the face of the recession. Although 70 to 90 percent of the respondents said various town services were vital, fewer than 40 percent said they would be willing to pay more taxes to support those services.
respondents filled out surveys before the latest round of town budget cuts took effect, and the results mostly fly in the face of them.
Parks, recreation ranked as essential
The overwhelming majority ranked parks and recreation programs as essential town services, but that department suffered the bulk of the layoffs and cutbacks. Moreover, many of those surveyed complained about street maintenance and code enforcement, but the cuts included cancellation of all major road projects and much of the routine maintenance.
Still, the place and the people both ranked high on the list of best-loved things about Payson. The top attributes in order of responses included: Climate, 39; Small town, 31; Good people, 23; Natural beauty, 17; Clean air, 14; Outdoor activities, 12; Forest, 11.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the creative gusto of complainers in Payson bars, coffee shops and council meetings, almost all of the “worst things” about Payson got just a single mention, with no groundswell of disgruntlement. The “most disliked” elements of town life included: Government, 5; Lack of bike trails, 3; Noise, 2.
A question seeking suggestions for making Payson a better place to live also provoked little consensus. The most frequently mentioned suggestions included: More businesses, 11; Better roads, 8; Highway bypass, 7.
Residents gave the town very high marks as a place to live, with about three-quarters rating it as good or excellent. Payson got even higher marks as a place to retire — but somewhat lower marks as a place to raise children.
Only 10 of the 95 Payson residents responding expressed dissatisfaction with their neighborhoods.
About two-thirds said they’d had some contact with town departments in the past year and only 10 percent said they were dissatisfied with the treatment they received.
A full 77 of the Payson residents surveyed considered themselves well informed on town decisions. Citing multiple sources, a total of 73 town residents responding said they got their information from newspapers, 44 cited radio, 37 credited conversations with town officials and 28 mentioned the town’s cable broadcast of its meeting.
Some key town services got very high marks. All told, 92 town residents ranked parks and recreation programs very or somewhat important. More than one-third said they used those programs at least once a week, another quarter said once or twice a month and 22 about four times a year. Only 10 percent said they never or rarely used the parks.
In all, 93 of the 95 town residents said they felt safe in Payson, 78 said they were satisfied with police services and 71 said police respond quickly — although about a quarter said they were dissatisfied with animal control services.
Another 88 people said they were satisfied with the fire department services, although 27 felt threatened by wildfires. Some 89 said they knew all about preventing wildfires, but 72 said they had no knowledge of any evacuation plans.
High marks for water quality, conservation
The water department fared well in the survey, with 82 of the Payson residents saying they were satisfied. The town got very high marks for water quality and water conservation.
However, the town council, streets and the planning department got more mixed reviews in the informal survey.
Only about half professed themselves satisfied with the decisions made by the mayor and council.
Oddly enough, 17 said they’d at one time considered running for town council.
Not quite two-thirds complained about the town’s essentially non-existent recycling program.
Moreover, a similar two-thirds complained about the services of the street department — with about a quarter of the respondents complaining about traffic flow. More than half of the respondents who expressed an opinion said the town is slow to fix the streets, even in an emergency.
The building and planning department didn’t do quite that badly, but lagged far behind police, parks and fire.
Roughly 40 percent said they were dissatisfied with building inspections and services and the planning department.
About a third of the respondents said they were dissatisfied with the maintenance of private property in town.