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Survey says: city is doing OK

Services -- Poll results show residents think city departments are doing (mostly) fine

Every two years the city asks citizens to rate city services and/or facilities in a survey that is distributed with the utility bills. The typical number of responses has been approximately 700 with 602 citizens responding to the December 2006 survey.

The results continue to show that our citizens are pleased with city services, ranking them between 5 and 6. The ranking scale is from 1 (very poorly) to 7 (very well).

Since 2002, over 90 percent of those responding to our surveys believe that our fire protection services, emergency medical services, police, parks and library services are good or excellent. Our rate-based services of electricity, water and sanitary sewer also scored high marks, earning a good or excellent ranking among 90 percent of respondents.

The city continues efforts to improve in areas that have not received such favorable responses. Building permits and development assistance, parking enforcement and code enforcement are examples of areas that the city will continue to review for satisfactory improvements. Street repairs and surfaces was an area that received lower than normal ratings with many respondents referencing the condition of Sunset Drive and B Street from Pacific Avenue south to the Hwy 47 bypass. Improvements are underway on Sunset Drive, with completion of the project scheduled for October 2007. Currently the city is working on the design work for B Street improvements. The city expects to open the project for bid this spring, with construction expected to begin this summer. The complete survey results are available on the city's Web site at www.ci.forest-grove.or.us/hottopics.htm

Prior to 2002, the city was facing major concerns in the police department regarding the increase in crime, particularly meth labs which required specialized equipment; the turnover rate of police officers, and child abuse cases which required 70 percent of the detectives' time. Also, 65 percent of the fire department's calls for service were medical-related, yet less than one-third of the firefighters were paramedics. In addition, there was an increase in multiple calls being received at the same time.

With limited number of personnel available, only one call could be responded to and the second call response was delayed until volunteer or off-duty personnel could reach the station. The Community Safety Levy was approved by a 57 percent 'yes' vote of the citizens in 2002. Passage of this levy allowed the police and fire departments to address the increase in crime and keep pace with growing community demands for service. The levy stabilized the police and fire departments' ability to meet citizens' expectations. The survey results indicate these expectations are being met at a high level of satisfaction.

The demand for services has not decreased over the last four years. For example, there are still multiple calls at the same time for fire service and the trend in identity theft cases has increased. Today's property taxes, including the levy revenue, pay for about 75 percent of police and fire services at existing levels. Property tax revenue is limited as a result of legislation implemented in 1997 when Ballot Measure 50 was passed.

Without the continued levy resources, services would be reduced in all departments funded by property taxes which is primarily public safety. In summary, the survey results illustrate strong support for many of the critical services provided by the city. The city's ability to meet community expectations would be hampered without revenue from the levy.

Michael Sykes is the city manager of Forest Grove.