Chesterton Tribune

Public's view of county's needs different from 'leaders', survey says

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By VICKI URBANIK

A new survey suggests that when it comes the way that some important issues are viewed, the general public doesn’t always see things in the same light as business leaders and public officials.

The survey, a joint project of the United Way of Porter County and the Porter County Community Foundation, found that community leaders representing business, non-profits, education and government placed high priority on more public transportation. Further, about two-thirds of them think that the growth that has occurred in the past few years in Porter County has been beneficial.

But the public at-large doesn’t view transportation as a pressing need.

Further, residents aren’t as supportive about the development that has occurred, and they are more concerned than the community leaders about employment issues.

On the other hand, the survey found some common ground: Substance abuse and health care both emerged as being among the top three pressing concerns for both the general citizenry as well as the “stakeholders” representing business, non-profits and government.

The surveys were broken down into three categories: The general citizenry, via 800 random phone calls; surveys among “stakeholders” representing business, non-profits and the government; and focus groups involving non-profits, government, youth, employers and others in the community.

The stakeholders generally gave higher marks than the citizens when asked about Porter County’s quality of life: 50 percent of the stakeholders rated the quality of life as “very good,” and 24 percent rated it “good.” But among the citizens surveyed, 26 percent rated it “very good,” while 40 percent rated it “good.”

When asked the top strength in Porter County, schools and education emerged as the highest rated factor for both groups -- but in greatly varying degrees. Sixty-nine percent of the stakeholders said schools was the top strength, while only 24 percent of the citizens rated schools as the number one strength.

When asked to pick the top three most significant issues facing Porter County, the results among the citizens surveyed were, in order: employment (21.9%), substance abuse (20.2%), health care (17.8%), schools/education (16.3 %), crime (14.2%), housing (13.7%), taxes (12%), roads (9.2%), transportation (8.4%) and youth concerns (7.5%).

But among the stakeholders, the issues viewed as the most significant were: health care and substance abuse (tied at 33.9%), transportation (30.1%), growth (20.7%), employment (15.2%), economy (15.1%), housing (13.2%), taxes (13.2%), schools (7.6%) and crime (5.7%).

One of the most significant differences between the surveys among the citizens and those for the stakeholders dealt with the issue of public transportation. Sixty percent of the stakeholders said more public transportation was a “major concern,” while only 17 percent of the citizens rated this issue in that manner. Instead, 34 percent of the citizens said public transportation was “not a concern.”

In a segment of the survey that asked the respondents to rate the issues as to their severity, underage drinking, alcohol and drug abuse, and the cost of prescription drugs emerged as the highest rated issues for the citizens. But among the stakeholders, the highest rated issues were availability of public transportation, alcohol and drug abuse, and availability of adequate medical coverage.

The survey, conducted by Perspectives Consulting of Michigan, is part of a needs assessment project underway by the United Way and the Community Foundation. The goal of the project is to identify the top needs in Porter County and map out recommendations for addressing them.

The initial results of the survey were unveiled at a meeting Thursday at the Porter County Expo Center. The audience consisted largely of representatives of non-profit agencies and social service providers. Those in attendance will meet again on Nov. 8 to identify from the surveys the top needs facing Porter County.

Both the United Way of Porter County and the Porter County Community Foundation will post the survey results in the coming days on their webpages.

 

Posted 10/19/2007