As part of the formal review of Chester County's five-year Strategic Plan, the Chester County Commissioners have announced the results of a citizens' survey, undertaken as part of the review process for the Strategic Plan's next five years.
Results of the Chester County Quality of Life Survey, conducted by West Chester University's Center for Social and Economic Policy Research during May and June, are based on a random sample of 1,125 responses, evenly represented from all areas of Chester County. The results provide a comparison to the citizens' survey undertaken in 2009, which helped form the basis of the Commissioners' Strategic Plan goals.
In 2013, residents continue to give Chester County high ratings in terms of it being a positive place to raise a family (95 percent), obtain a good education (92 percent), and to purchase a home (83 percent). Within each of these areas, the percentage of residents describing the county as having done an "excellent or good" job has increased over the 2009 survey. Despite a suppressed national economy, 70 percent of Chester County residents indicated that they County does an "excellent or good" job in creating an environment for opening a business, and 62 percent find Chester County to be a positive place to find a job (higher than the 2009 study).
While traffic (30 percent) and taxes (23 percent) remain as the least appealing parts of living in Chester, residents continue to describe open space and scenery as the best part of living in Chester County (33 percent).
"It is good to know that people have a positive impression of Chester County, both where they live and with county services," said Commissioners' Chairman Ryan Costello.
"But we won't just pat ourselves on the back and say, 'Aren't we doing a great job?' We are using the survey results as a barometer of where we stand now, and how we have increased the level of satisfaction over the past five years. The responses will help us to move forward, refine the original goals based on what we have achieved thus far, and dig deeper into what we need to do to improve upon our citizens' satisfaction over the next five years."
When asked about the importance of issues facing Chester County, the top three results stated "most important or one of the most important" were providing quality services while maintaining low taxes (80 percent), maintaining the quality of Chester County water (79 percent) and maintaining high quality emergency services (78 percent). Attracting and retaining businesses (77 percent) moved up as a priority for county residents from 2009, when only 59 percent of residents ranked it as either most important or one of the most important priorities.
As in 2009, emergency services and the 911 system remain at the top of the list of services available to Chester County residents. More than eight out of ten survey respondents (81 percent) claimed that emergency services and the 911 system are "very important," and 71 percent confirmed that they would be very willing or somewhat willing to pay more county taxes for emergency services and the 911 system.
Performance of county employees was also addressed as part of the survey. In 2009, only 38 percent of residents surveyed had contact with a county employee in the 12 months preceding the survey, compared to 2013, when 44 percent indicated some level of contact with a county employee. For 2013, county employees received a higher percentage of "excellent or good" ratings (87 percent) from residents when looking at overall performance.
Commenting on the increase in positive ratings of the performance of county employees, Commissioner Cozzone said, "We were pleased with the feedback on the professionalism of county employees that the first citizen survey revealed. This latest survey reports that more citizens are having contact with county employees, and that they are rating employees' responsiveness, courteousness and professionalism higher than before.
"I thank the employees for their continued dedication and am pleased that the survey validates their hard work. You can have the best services and programs available anywhere, but if you don't have a strong, committed workforce to communicate and deliver them, then the services and programs will not be effective."
The 2013 survey confirmed that Chester County residents are frequent users of a number of county services, including county parks and county libraries. One of the more telling changes between 2009 and 2013 is the change in the percentage of residents who have visited the Chester County website in the past 12 months, moving from less than 50 percent in 2009 to 70 percent in 2013.
Commenting on the significant increase in website usage by citizens, Commissioner Farrell noted, "Our original survey, five years ago, indicated that less than 50 percent of citizens had visited the county website, but this latest survey revealed that 70 percent have visited the county website in the past 12 months.
"Over the last five years, we have made technological advances in county services, with many more programs available electronically and online. This, combined with the re-design of our website, making it much more flexible and adaptable to mobile devices, has contributed to this increase. As we take advantage of future technology, we will be able to offer even more important county services that can be accessed from home, the office, the car, bus or train."
A summary of the Chester County Quality of Life Survey may be viewed at www.chesco.org.