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County survey tells us what you think

The overall quality of life for people in St. Louis County is good and improving. That's just one of the things residents told us through their answers to a citizens survey conducted earlier this year. Of course, there are always opportunities for improvement and that is what we, as your county government, will focus on moving forward.

Working with the National Research Center and four other Minnesota counties, the survey was sent to 2,100 randomly selected residents in St. Louis County in February and March. (We conducted similar surveys in 2007, 2011 and 2013.) The benefit of this partnership is that it allows us to look at the trends in the responses from our residents, as well as comparisons to how we rate among other counties, both at the state and national level.

When asked to rate the overall quality of life, St. Louis County residents this year gave a score of 69 on a 100 point scale, in which 100 is excellent and zero is poor. That's up from 66 points in 2013 and 61 in 2007. The rating is similar to results seen nationwide. Residents gave the county high ratings for recreational opportunities and as a place to live and raise a family.

The aspect that ranked lowest was employment opportunities, scoring just 36 out of 100. But even that is showing a marked improvement, up from just 25 in 2011.

Nearly half of residents had contact with the county in the last year. This is a much higher percentage than the national average. The three service areas contacted the most include 911 dispatch (17 percent), the assessor's office (13 percent) and the auditor's office (12 percent).

As a follow-up, we asked people their impressions of the employees they dealt with. 'm happy to report that not only did our staff receive good marks across the board for being courteous, knowledgeable and responsive, we also continue to show improvement from previous surveys. For overall impression, our staff scored 70 on the 100 point scale, a seven-point improvement from just three years ago, and a much higher rating than the national average.

St. Louis County residents feel relatively safe from most types of crime. Results this year are pretty consistent with past surveys. Distracted drivers remain the top safety concern, followed by illegal drug activity.

We also asked survey participants to rate a variety of potential health concerns. The top two concerns include illegal drug use and abuse of prescribed medication, followed by domestic violence, and abuse and neglect of children. We obviously share these concerns. Even before the results were released, our County Board and department heads have been working through a strategic planning process to better align resources to address many of these areas.

Some areas we've put special focus on in recent years have resulted in improved ratings in the survey. People's concerns about taxes have dropped, we believe in part thanks to the hard work of our County Board to hold the property tax levy flat for 2016. On a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being considered a major problem, taxes received a score of 57 this year, down from 68 in 2013.

Another priority for the County Board and our Planning and Community Development Department the last couple years has been cleaning up blighted properties. This effort, too, is showing positive results. People's concerns about foreclosed, tax-forfeited and blighted properties dropped by six points compared to 2013.

We thank those who participated in the survey and provided us this valuable feedback. We take the results seriously and use them as we plan for the future to best serve our citizens. You can find the full survey results on our website at stlouiscountymn.gov.

 Kevin Z. Gray is the St. Louis County administrator.

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