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Wednesday, 31 May 2006 00:00

Sylva residents rate quality of life high

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

“Overall, citizens seem fairly satisfied with the quality of life in the town of Sylva.”

So reads the first line in the summary of responses collected last month in a citizen satisfaction survey of Sylva residents.

The 21-question survey was designed to collect information about the town’s current services and future improvements. It was designed by Christopher Cooper, assistant professor of political science and director of WCU’s master’s degree program in public affairs, and WCU graduate student Alison Melnikova. The pair collaborated with town officials on the survey.

Surveys were sent to 559 households and 209 responses were returned, resulting in a 37.5 percent response rate.

“This response rate is fairly high and is above average for a survey of this type,” the summary report states.

The survey’s downfall is that while the number of completed surveys returned was above average, the median age of the sample is 63 — “considerably older than the population of homeowners in Sylva,” the summary report states.

Survey results were presented to town officials May 18. Results were broken down into five broad categories: overall satisfaction, communication, individual services, parks and recreation, and additional services.

Respondents did not have to answer all questions in the survey, meaning that percentages are based on slightly varied totals.

Of 194 respondents, 80 percent reported their quality of life as being either good or excellent. However, people who have lived in the town longer tended to rate their quality of life lower than those who had more recently come to the area.

Almost 90 percent of 193 respondents said they feel somewhat or very safe in their neighborhoods. The classic neighborhood designed for single-family homes may be disappearing, though, as 67 percent of 183 respondents said that the availability of affordable housing is either fair or poor. Only 3 percent of respondents said that such availability was excellent.

In terms of communication, 57 percent of 180 respondents said they received just the right amount of information from the town, versus 42 percent who said they received too little. These numbers are in line with the 64 percent of 188 respondents who said they frequently read the town’s newsletter, which is published quarterly.

Services such as parking availability brought in a high number of responses, with 69 percent of 193 survey takers saying they are somewhat or very satisfied with parking in town.

However, land-use planning satisfaction levels were closely split with 54 percent of 170 respondents saying they are somewhat to very satisfied versus 46 percent who said they were somewhat to very dissatisfied.

The survey uncovered an interesting trend in the town’s parks and recreation usage. Not surprisingly, Poteet Park, which is located in the middle of downtown adjacent to the Sylva Pool, is the most used park. But whether an individual has children has no effect on the likelihood of using that park, the survey concludes.

Respondents also were asked what additional services they would like to see the town offer. Bike paths and curbside recycling received the most support. More sidewalks, more cultural events, and an indoor gymnasium also received strong support.

With survey results in hand, now town officials will begin looking at what they mean for the town’s future.

“I will review the responses and see what I can do to follow up on them,” said Town Manager Jay Denton.

The satisfaction survey was conceived during town board member Stacy Knott’s election campaign last November. At the time, Knotts said that she was surprised how few Sylva residents participated in government relations, from voting to attending meetings. A public opinion survey and the creation of additional methods with which to gather feedback such as an online suggestion box might help get more people involved, Knotts said.

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