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Parks, libraries score high in county survey

Washington County residents say they enjoy an exceptional quality of life.

They feel safe in their communities and they value their county parks and libraries.

But rapid growth of the suburban county is a leading concern, and public transit access is a problem.

Those are among highlights of a recent commissioned survey of county residents. The survey conducted in February found generally favorable views of county government, support for county services, but also concern — though not alarm — about certain aspects of life in Washington County.

"We are very proud of the results again this year," County Administrator Molly O'Rourke said during a May 17 discussion of the survey.

Residents saved their highest approval of county services for recreation and safety.

Parks, such as Ravine Regional Park in Cottage Grove and Lake Elmo Park Reserve, scored the highest, at an 83 on a 100-point scale. County libraries were a close second; respondents said the top service priority for libraries should be access to free computers and wireless Internet. Trail and bikeway systems scored well and were followed by emergency dispatch and sheriff services.

Residents have strong opinions about transportation. They overwhelmingly approve of their ability to travel by car in the county and of the availability of bike and walking options.

However, only 33 percent of respondents rated the availability of public transit options as good or excellent. More than one-third of those surveyed rated it as poor.

Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury said the county continues to be underserved by regular regional bus route service, and the survey reinforces attempt to see more transit options.

"I think this again validates our efforts to continue down that road until I hear otherwise," Weik said.

Survey respondents said too much growth and development is the most serious issue facing the county. The second-highest concern is county property taxes, but officials said the survey doesn't differentiate between taxes assessed by the county and those collected by school districts and cities. The county collects all taxes and then disperses them to the other levels of government.

"We're all guilty with a broad brush," Commissioner Gary Kriesel said.

Some survey findings seem conflicting. Respondents said they "somewhat" approve of the job of Washington County commissioners, but there also was only a "fair" rating for residents' knowledge of the County Board's work.

Residents said the county does a good job of informing residents. Respondents get their information from the county newsletter, county website and weekly and daily newspapers.

Commissioner Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove said survey results help guide the county's budget and policy decisions.

Washington County joined with Dakota, Olmsted, Scott and St. Louis counties in the survey, conducted by National Research Center. In Washington County, 2,390 residents spread across the five commissioner districts received the mailed survey. There were 835 survey responses, or about 35 percent.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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