Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Survey supports planning

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Monday, December 18, 2006

PALMER— The majority of residents surveyed, 81 percent, are asking the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to better manage growth and development.

The question drew one of the strongest responses of a survey that was mailed out last spring. Additionally, the majority surveyed, 74.1 percent, also say they support a system of zoning that designates different uses such as residential, agricultural, and commercial/industrial.

Residents who responded are proud of where they live. The MAT-SU is better suited to raising children than Anchorage, according to 73.1 percent of the respondents. Contrary to common thought, the rural character of the MAT-SU beat out the reasonable cost for housing when ranked as a reason to live here.

The Borough Assembly will see a presentation on the survey on Nov. 21 by the partnering researchers at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Robert H. Langworthy and Chad Farell.

Overall, the rating of Borough services scored a 3.21 on a scale of 1-poor to 5-very good. Ambulance, the Central Landfill, Fire Departments, and Libraries rated the highest in customer service in that order, with each rating in the high 3s on the 1 to 5 scale. Of those surveyed, 58 percent said when they call the Borough they are dealt with politely and professionally.

"We're happy that the Borough has effective customer service, and we want to do even better," said Borough Manager John Duffy.

The survey was mailed to 27,089 residents in the MAT-SU Borough. The number of residents who responded was 2,600, giving the response a 9.5 percent return rate well above the more typical two percent return rate on surveys. The cost of the survey mailing was $22,809.

The 77-page answers to the survey are posted online on the Manager's page. A paper copy is available from the Manager's secretary. The overall survey answers are 11 pages long, but the remaining pages are divided into responses from geographic areas. Among the questions, the original 16-page survey asked residents to evaluate Borough services and facilities, to characterize life in Borough neighborhoods, to address public access to Borough government, and to give opinions on zoning and land use issues as well as on taxes.

The MAT-SU Borough is the 31st fastest growing community in the nation. Residents indicated in the survey that their neighborhoods are feeling the pinch of growth. Of those who responded, 73.1 percent said they noticed a change in housing density in their neighborhood since 2001, and 90 percent of those said they expected density to get worse. A majority of the residents who answered the survey, 74.1 percent, said traffic congestion is a serious problem in the MAT-SU.

On fiscal matters, the Borough should spend funds on preserving open spaces in the Borough, according to 59.8 percent of respondents. More than that, 60.9 percent, said the Borough should spend more tax dollars on roads. On police, 63.3 percent of answering residents say it's important for the Borough to provide police services. Half of respondents, 50.2 percent, disagreed with keeping taxes low if it means reducing services, (37.5 supported it). And 57.7 percent say they support an impact fee for developers. Numbers were almost split on whether to have a seasonal sales tax, 42 percent agreed, 47.5 percent disagreed; on a year-round sales tax 42 percent agreed, while 50 percent disagreed.

As expected for a community with a property tax cap, 84 percent of respondents said they disagreed with increased property taxes to pay for services. Areas to work on include informing Borough residents how their tax dollars are spent. Some 60.2 percent of respondents said they don't feel they are getting their money's worth for their taxes, while 28.4 percent agreed they did get their money's worth.

University of Alaska, Matanuska-Susitna College was picked as the top recommendation for high school graduates, outranking outside colleges and universities as well as in-state colleges.

The Borough contracted for 34,445 surveys to be mailed out. However, inadvertently not everyone on the distribution list got one, including Sutton and likely Talkeetna. We've identified the problem and have taken measures to prevent it from happening again.

Even so, the returns came from across the MAT-SU, including South Knik, Palmer, the Butte, Fishhook, Farm Loop, Buffalo/Soapstone, Knik-Fairview, Wasilla, Big Lake, and Meadow Lakes, among other communities. The response percentages from specific communities are listed on the last page of the first section. The communities that did not get a survey will get a chance to express their views in a sample survey expected to take place early next year.

For more information on the survey, contact MAT-SU Borough Manager John Duffy at 745-9689 or Public Affairs Manager Patty Sullivan at 745-9577.