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Residents happy with life in Washington County

Nearly all of Washington County residents say their quality of life is good or excellent. And recent survey numbers suggests that the county remains one of the more affluent areas in the Twin Cities metro. But there are indicators that the recent economic downturn has affected some residents who live in the county.

Those assessments were published in Washington County's annual performance report, which was released to the public this week.

The report, which is available on the county's web site and at county libraries, summarizes development and trends in several different areas that effect county residents, such as crime, park services and how many fruits and vegetables teens are eating each day.

One member of each of the county's department worked on a committee that developed the performance report.

According to the report, which was first published in 1998, 94 percent of all residents surveyed said their quality of life in Washington County is good or excellent. The most recent 2007 statistics show the median household income in the county is $77,476.

But stats for unemployment and county food support program have steadily crept up every year since 2004. The report states that residents who use county economic assistance programs increased to 3,000 in 2008.

The county's unemployment rate also hit nearly 7 percent last year and has increased for the last five years. In 2004 unemployment rate in the county was less than 4 percent.

Those indicators coupled with the economic woes that have continued in 2009 will have county staff members and elected officials paying close attention other developing trends in the county over the next few years, said Washington County Commissioner and Board Chair Myra Peterson.

"As we go forward I think there are going to be changes," Peterson said. "And as a result we may have to adjust some of our goals to be more reflective of the needs of the community in 2009 and 2010."

County commissioner Gary Kriesel said he was impressed with the overall presentation of the report, but would have liked to see inclusion of more analysis on taxes and assessments.

Other interesting notes including in Washington County's 2008 Performance Report:

• The number of visits and loans per capita to county libraries saw a significant increase in 2008.

More than one million people visited a Washington County library in 2008 and 18,000 adults and children became first time borrowers of library materials. Library cardholders borrowed about 2.15 million items, which was an 11 percent increase from the previous year.

• Resident visits to county parks have increased every year since 2004. From 2004 to 2007 the county saw a 27-percent increase in the number of park visitors. The trend shows that the amount of people visiting parks is increasing at a higher rate than county population.

• The maintenance cost per mile of all county roads rose slightly from 2006 to 2007 to about $17,000. Many factors, including snow fall and increasing lane miles, affect the cost to maintain the investment made in the county's highway system. Cost of labor and equipment has also increased over the last few years, the report states.

For more information on Washington County's 2008 Performance Report go to: Hard copies of the report are available online or at all of the county's libraries.