Aquatic center a top priority residents say on listening tour

Schools, parks and an aquatic center - that's what West Linn residents like and want, according to the results of the city's recent listening tour and online questionnaire.

The West Linn City Council held a listening tour from Oct. 20 to Nov. 9, during which each councilor and the mayor hosted an event at a different location throughout the city. The tour was intended to hear what residents love about West Linn, what they want to see improved and how they see the city in the future.

The council heard the results from the five meetings during its Dec. 5 worksession. It will use these results as a guide for its goal-setting for 2012.

According to consultant Greg McKenzie, who facilitated the sessions and computed the data, the purpose of the tour was to engage new audiences.

With nearly half of the participants being residents with children who are school age or younger, McKenzie said the city was successful in reaching an audience that typically does not participate in city discussions.

An all-city staff session was also held Nov. 2 to get employee input.

Both the online questionnaire and the audiences at the meetings were asked four open-ended questions.

n What do you like about living in West Linn?

n What areas of city services need to be improved?

n What should be the priorities for the city council for the next two years?

n How can the city and the school district work more closely together to better serve the citizens of West Linn?

Altogether, 126 people attended one or more of the community and staff meetings, and 134 people took the online questionnaire.

'Quite frankly, I was pleased with that number,' McKenzie told the city council.

Councilor Jenni Tan's Nov. 9 listening date at the public library was the best attended, with 43 participants.

'I'm truly grateful to be here and hear your feedback,' Tan told the group. 'What do you care about? We are here to take that feedback.'

'The goal is to keep creating a vibrant community people want to live in,' Assistant City Manager Chris Kerr added.

At each meeting, flip boards were filled with suggestions, note cards were collected and worksheets were filled out. McKenzie made sure to collect every verbal and written suggestion, idea and concern.

'From the thousands of individual ideas expressed by various respondents, the information was sorted into common themes and compiled for the most frequently mentioned items,' according his report.

McKenzie stressed that the listening tour and the online questionnaire results are not statistically valid, but they do offer 'a clear perception of what the city is about' and what needs are emerging.

Taking the most common themes from responses of what people like about West Linn, McKenzie came up with this description of the city:

'West Linn is a quiet, close-knit community in near proximity of Portland but yet maintains a small-town feel. Schools, parks and recreational opportunities are the primary reasons families choose to live here. The city is visually appealing with many natural areas. The citizens feel safe and freely volunteer their time in support (of) the city and other community events.'

The issues most residents want to see improved or consider priorities are an aquatic/recreation center; economic development/an improved tax base; fiscal responsibility; water and street infrastructure and maintenance; maintenance of public safety; and addressing traffic issues and Highway 43.

When asked to name the top city issue for the next year, an aquatic/recreation center was the runaway winner with nearly double the votes as the second-place finisher.

Next on the list was fiscal responsibility. Quickly losing priority were economic development/an improved tax base; water and street infrastructure and maintenance; maintenance of public safety/police station; traffic issues and Highway 43; and city transparency/communication.

As for areas in which the city and the school district could collaborate, popular suggestions included an aquatic center, joint use of facilities and parks, pedestrian safety near schools, internships, joint meetings, after-school programs, helping needy kids and families, joint communication, co-sponsored events, adult community education, field and facility maintenance and school land-use planning.

The city council will take some time to digest the findings of the listening tour and the online questionnaire and will use the results to help guide it during its goal-setting session.

These results are just one factor in determining the direction of the city; West Linn will also be conducting its biannual phone survey this winter, which will give the city more quantitative data.

The council will hold its annual goal-setting session sometime late January or early February.

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