It can sometimes seem as if Kansas Citians love to complain about City Hall, but attitudes about city government and the city overall have improved in recent years, according to a survey released Thursday.
In fact, a solid majority of city residents are satisfied with local government services and the quality of life in the city, the report on citizen satisfaction scores noted.
Citizen satisfaction with overall quality of city services is at 60 percent — 7 percentage points above the average for cities in Missouri and Kansas and 10 points above the average for comparably size cities across the country, the survey said.
“I’m proud to be here … to salute the good work being done to make and keep Kansas City great,” Mayor Sly James said at a rally across from the Sprint Center to announce the results. “Thanks to our city workers, Kansas City has reached the highest citizen satisfaction rating since we started using this survey tool 14 years ago.”
This year’s survey reflects answers from about 4,000 respondents by mail and phone between August 2014 and May 2015. The survey was done by Olathe-based ETC Institute, which does similar polls for cities locally and nationally.
Kansas City has been doing this type of survey since 2001. The report compares scores going back years and in many cases back to 2005. Some questions are asked every year, while others have been asked only in the past three or four years.
Eighty percent of the respondents judged Kansas City to be an excellent or good place to live, and 67.4 percent said they were satisfied with the overall quality of life in the city, which were significant increases from results in 2011 and 2005.
Among specific government categories in just the past year, citizen perceptions improved for the quality of police services, snow removal, city parks maintenance and the city’s 311 Action Center.
Before 2011 and especially back to 2005, Kansas City’s scores were often dismal and routinely trailed those of its peers and especially those of its suburbs. But now the scores are more in the middle of the pack or even above average among other cities that ETC measures.
The sustained improvement in recent years was so striking that the city’s data analysts called ETC to make sure it was correct.
They were assured the results were correct, and it shows the city is using these surveys productively to address service shortcomings and fix delivery problems, said Kate Bender, the city’s deputy performance officer.
“We’ve seen really big increases year over year,” Bender said, adding that ETC officials told her the change was impressive compared with what’s happening in other cities.
But not every citizen is convinced.
Neighborhood activist Rianna Deselich was disappointed that only two people from her Little Blue Valley neighborhood in extreme southeast Kansas City were surveyed.
“I don’t think this is a good survey because it didn’t survey all parts of town equally,” she said. “Kansas City is a diverse city, and we all have different needs.”
Deselich said her area is split between the Central and South police patrol divisions and there aren’t enough officers to reach that far.
“We have infrastructure issues,” she added. “We have roads that need to be repaired. We have roads that are falling into rivers.”
While the survey reflected improved satisfaction with parks and recreation programs and facilities, Karry Palmer doesn’t see it in his south Kansas City neighborhood.
“Go to Clark-Ketterman park at 107th Street and look at the tennis court — that’s all I need to say,” Palmer said. “Look at the trail at Bannister Park. We have had issues with overhanging trees and trees not being cut far enough back from the trail. People are not going to walk a trail they don’t feel safe on.”
Palmer did, however, give the city credit for trying to improve customer service.
William Bates said his Historic Manheim Park Neighborhood, bounded by 39th and 47th streets and Troost to the Paseo, has certainly improved in recent years with new streets, new sidewalks and increased police presence.
“We’re getting more attention,” said Bates, a former member of the Kansas City Neighborhood Advisory Council.
Bates pointed to code enforcement as the biggest disappointment.
“That’s the biggest hurdle with the city right now,” he said. “We need a code enforcement officer for every neighborhood, or every two neighborhoods.”
The survey definitely reflects that dissatisfaction, with only 20 percent of residents content with the maintenance of vacant properties, far below grades for that category in other cities.
City Manager Troy Schulte acknowledged that weakness and said the city is trying to direct investments in the neediest neighborhoods to improve vacant building maintenance and the monitoring of nuisance code violations and dangerous buildings.
Some rankings have improved, but only after huge increases in city spending.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said they were satisfied with customer service from the water department, up from 47 percent in 2012. And 44 percent were satisfied with the timeliness of water and sewer repairs, compared with 41 percent in 2012.
But the water department is spending tens of millions of dollars on water and sewer upgrades and is wrapping up a $12 million, two-year contract to overhaul its customer service system.
Schulte said the city is trying to turn around years of poor perceptions about the water department, but it will take time.
This year’s survey revealed statistically significant improvements from last year in 34 questions, no change in 39 questions and a decline in 23 questions.
Some improvements were noted in street maintenance, customer service from city employees and quality of police protection.
Confidence in leadership provided by elected officials rose from 39 percent in 2011 to 53.7 percent, and satisfaction with the city manager and his staff rose from 36 percent to 51 percent in that same time period.
Over the past three years, satisfaction has dropped with Kansas City International Airport, although more than 70 percent of respondents still approved of the airport’s convenience and cleanliness. Schulte attributed some of the dissatisfaction to the heated and ongoing community debate over how to improve the airport.
Animal control scores declined just in the past year, which Bender attributed to lots of media coverage about the city’s overcrowded animal shelter and some high-profile hoarding and animal neglect cases.
The entire report is at kcmo.gov/data/citizen-satisfaction-survey-results.