Manassas Journal Messenger | County government OK with residents

Prince William County residents in an annual survey indicated increased satisfaction in government services, including the county’s police department, help with the elderly and its Department of Social Services.

But the Center for Survey Research study found that resident’s concern over road navigation has dropped significantly since last year, especially in Gainesville and the Linton Hall area.

The quality of life in Prince William County was rated at 7.25 this year out of 10 points. It’s a 1.35-point increase since 1993 and a tiny edge up from 1998’s 7.24 points.

Residents’ satisfaction with their opportunity for input on development jumped by 8 percent.

“Overall I thought the survey showed Prince William County looking quite good,” said Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III, I-Gainesville. “There is substantial approval of the government and the way we do business.”

Although overall satisfaction with county government services dropped from 92.9 percent in 2002 to 89.6 percent this year, Wilbourn said it’s still a good mark.

“Any Fortune 500 company would love to have those ratings,” he said.

Thomas M. Guterbock, director of the Center for Survey Research, presented the survey results to the county supervisors last week.

He said that in this election year negative issues could have been drawn into the public consciousness more so than in a non-election year. This could be one reason that overall satisfaction is lower, he said.

Each year the county hires the University of Virginia team to call random county residents to rate its quality of services.

The Center for Survey Research’s 1,484-person study had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.

“We are really trying to get what our residents are thinking about the county’s programs,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large. “We then compare these results to our programs and … we will make adjustments.”

Wilbourn said that with the approval of the 2002 general obligation bond, the county is addressing the traffic-related concerns made clear in the survey.

In the Linton Hall and Gainesville area, 20 percent of residents said they were satisfied with getting around the county. Dale City residents were the most satisfied, the study said.

Satisfaction with the coordination of development with road systems ranked lowest at 43 percent.

“I think Prince William County is addressing the transportation issue very significantly with the last two bond issues,” said Wilbourn.

The 2002 general obligation bond for $86.7 million banked money to fund the widening of Minnieville Road, extending Sudley Manor Drive to Linton Hall Road, and extending Benita Fitzgerald Drive to Cardinal Drive.

It’s also slated to fund improvements at Old Bridge Road and Prince William Parkway, along U.S. 1 and links along U.S. 15.

A 1998 general obligation bond for $42 million funded the continuation of Va. 234 to U.S. 1.

“We have to start thinking outside the box, talking more with our neighboring jurisdictions and start focusing on projects that are inter-jurisdictional in order to get projects done that will truly make accomplishments in relieving congestion,” said Wilbourn. “Those are not problems that can be solved from the budget of Prince William County.”

Meanwhile, satisfaction with the value for tax dollars rose significantly since 1993 from 65.5 percent to this year’s 82.8 percent.

Sixty-five percent of those polled said taxes and services should stay the same, although Brentsville residents were more likely to recommend lowering taxes and decreasing services.

“They’re getting more value for their tax dollar which indicates that they feel the county is doing a better job of doing their services in a cost effective matter,” said Connaughton. “The downturn in overall satisfaction is troubling when comparing it to some of the other figures. It would indicate to me there is a great deal of frustration regarding growth and development.

“Some of that downturn in overall satisfaction is being caused by that frustration,” he said.

The Center for Survey Research asked questions of 1,484 random county residents in May and June. The survey cost $55,411 this year.

The 2003 survey was the first to over sample residents in the Rural Crescent for a more detailed look at issues relevant to people in rural areas. Center for Survey Research used geographic weighting to generalize results without over-representing any one district.

The Rural Crescent is an 80,000-acre “crescent” of western Prince William County land zoned for 10-acre minimum lots designed to maintain a rural setting.

Across the county residents rated 54 specific services including the landfill, transportation, parks and recreation, social services and the police department.

Those areas that saw significant changes from 2001 to 2003 included an increase in satisfaction with the county’s appearance regarding trash along roadways.

Satisfaction with county appearance regarding deteriorated buildings increased from 76.7 percent to 80.4 percent.

Maintaining consistency with the rest of the study, residents’ satisfaction with navigating Northern Virginia roads declined this year to 33.1 percent from 37.3 percent in 2001.

Making Prince William County safe from crime ranked as the No. 1 goal on the county’s top eight strategic planning goals.

Ridding crime was followed by a desire to improve public education, prevent fire and medical emergencies, improve the county’s road network and maintain and improve environmental quality.

There was also a significant increase in expanding services for low-income families. That priority jumped from No. 16 to No. 9 this year.

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