Residents rate Danville lower on national survey second time around

Published 8:42 am Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Infrastructure, health scores worse than in 2015, but participation and engagement go up

Danville residents rate their streets, sidewalks and recreation opportunities less well than they did three years ago, according to the 521 respondents who participated in the city’s 2018 National Citizen Survey.

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Participation and engagement in the community has gone up in several categories, including political activity and attending events and meetings, according to the survey results.

Danville asked residents to take the online survey in January. The National Citizen Survey (NCS) is a standardized survey offered by the national Research Center Inc. and the International City/County Management Association.

Danville City Manager Ron Scott said more than 500 U.S. cities participate, many of them on a biannual basis. Those national results are used to create benchmarks that Danville’s responses can be compared to, Scott said. The participating cities have populations from above 1 million down to smaller than Danville, he said.

Danville last used the NCS in 2015, when it conducted the survey via mail. The 2015 survey was deemed statistically significant; Scott couldn’t say the same for the 2018 survey, which was offered online and wasn’t randomized.

There was also no way to be sure all the respondents live in Danville because of the online, opt-in format, Scott noted.

The survey cost almost $7,000 to complete.

According to a summary of results comparing 2015 to 2018 responses:

• Ratings for “mobility” decreased, including street repair, street lighting, snow removal and sidewalk maintenance.

• “Public sentiment toward aspects of public transit, including ease of travel by public transportation and bus or transit services, also declined.”

• Variety of housing options, public spaces, sewer services and cable television — all aspects of the “overall built environment” trended downward in respondents’ ratings.

• Some recreation and wellness categories — “particularly health-related services” — were rated “less positively” in 2018.

• Respondents in 2018 were more likely to have voted in local elections, attended a public meeting, volunteered, campaigned for a political issue or contacted an elected official. The summary notes, “These higher ratings (may) be partially attributable to opt-in respondents being more likely to be engaged in the community compared to the general population.”

The survey had 134 categories where ratings could be compared directly between 2015 and 2018. Of those, ratings for 99 categories didn’t change enough to be demonstrably significant, according to the summary.

Twenty-three categories were rated significantly lower than in 2015: travel by public transportation, overall built environment, housing options, public places, overall economic health, health and wellness, mental health care, preventative health services, health care, adult education, child care/preschool, street repair, street lighting, snow removal, sidewalk maintenance, traffic signal timing, bus or transit services, garbage collection, recycling, sewer services, cable TV, city parks and health services.

Respondents rated 12 categories significantly higher than they did in 2015: opportunities to participate in community matters, fire prevention, if they contacted Danville employees, if they are not experiencing “housing cost stress,” if they work in Danville, if they use Danville recreation centers, if they attended city-sponsored events, if they campaigned politically, if they contacted Danville elected officials, if they volunteered, if they attended a public meeting and if they voted in local elections.

Overall, 77 percent of respondents rated Danville as having a good or excellent quality of life. “This rating was similar to those given in other communities across the nation,” according to the survey results. About 86 percent of respondents said Danville was a good or excellent place to live.

“Roughly eight in 10 residents gave positive reviews to their neighborhood as a place to live, Danville as a place to raise children and the overall appearance of the city, while about seven in 10 favorably rated Danville’s overall image and the city as a place to retire,” according to the survey results. “All of these aspects were rated similar to the national benchmark.”

Respondents’ ratings of services and customer service provided by Danville were also in-line with the national benchmarks, according to the survey. But, “About half of residents or less positively rated the remaining aspects of government performance and these ratings were lower than those seen elsewhere.”

About 61 percent of respondents said Danville’s “sense of community” was good or excellent, once again in-line with national benchmarks, according to the survey.

“Questions arise as to, ‘what do you do with the data?'” Scott said recently when presenting the survey results publicly. “You see these results and they may not be as good as anybody might want … The information related to me by the individuals conducting the survey essentially say that cities can’t be excellent in all facets of community life.”

Scott said the results can help Danville’s government and organizations decide if they’re comfortable in “the direction we’re going” in different areas.

“It’s the eternal question in terms of services — what do we need to address with the limited money that we have?” Scott asked. “… I would want us to rate excellent in all of these, and we mostly did in 2015. Either that survey was accurate or inaccurate, but it’s not the case three years later. So it will generate conversation going forward as to what vision we have for our community? How do we want to and how can we not only envision a different outcome, but actually cooperatively work to change a direction that may be going the wrong way?

“This is simply an assessment at this time for us to think about and to consider. And we can begin that process in terms of next year’s budget, perhaps, under some aspects.”

On the topic of Danville’s ratings dropping from 2015 to 2018, Scott said, “One might ask, if you have an inquiring mind — is this an opinion directly related to the services and the interaction locally? Or is it part of the mindset we have about government these days generally? I would say it’s possibly both.”


Danville’s National Citizen Survey also asked respondents questions in two areas customized for Danville — the need for better sidewalks to downtown and the community’s parks and recreation priorities. You can read about parks and recreation priorities in tomorrow’s Advocate-Messenger, and the community’s desire for better sidewalks and streets in Thursday’s paper.