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Residential survey details praises, concerns

Washington County residents love their parks and libraries, but they think residential growth is too fast and are still not please with the condition of the roads.

Those are just some of the sentiments indicated in a residential survey that was released to the public recently.

The county last conducted a survey of its residents in 2006, when residential growth was also the top concern among the 500 residents who contacted by phone.

In the most recent survey 63 percent of respondents said categorized the growth of housing developments throughout the county as "too fast." Twenty nine-percent of respondents said the residential growth rate was the "right amount," and eight percent said it was "too slow."

"Growth rate is still the most significant concern for county residents, but not as high as it was in the past," said Washington County deputy administrator Molly O'Rourke, who added that growth issues have been difficult for the county to address because cities generally have more control of land use than counties.

"We do have control of the land use and zoning in townships, but we have very few townships in Washington County. Cities are going to have a more direct impact on growth."

In another vital category, 50 percent of respondents said job growth in the county was too slow, compared to 35 percent who said it was the right amount and 15 percent who said it was too fast.

Parks praised, roads not

The county's parks system was by far the highest praised service, according to the survey results, with the parks and recreation services getting a 93-percent approval rating from respondents.

O'Rourke said much of the county's recent initiatives for open space derived from past surveys that indicated parks and preservation of open space were high on residents' priority lists.

"We brought the park referendum to voters a few years ago to purchase open space, and that was certainly a reaction from our last survey where residents have continued to say that open space is important," O'Rourke said. "We're trying to make sure we maintain that right balance between growth and open space."

Other areas receiving high praise were the sheriff's services and county libraries.

The lowest rated service was the county road system, which O'Rourke said confirms county officials' suspicions that not enough state funding is dedicated to transportation.

"Our elected officials have been saying for years that we have not been getting sufficient funding from the state to adequately keep our roads in shape," O'Rourke said. "And we've been having to spend more and more property tax dollars on that."

"Our commissioners have been telling the state we need more money for transportation, and that's partially due to the survey results.

O'Rourke said commissioners and county staff count on the survey as one way of getting feedback on what issues are most important to residents.

Previous to this year, the county has generally completed a residential survey every two to five years. But in 2008 the county collaborated with three other Minnesota counties (Dakota, Olmstead and Carver) to contract the same survey service, National Research Center.

"It worked out real well this year, so if we can continue to collaborate with the other counties, we could the defrayed costs would allow us to continue to complete surveys every other year," O'Rourke said.