City survey results reveal mostly high satisfaction levels

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 1, 2021

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Most resident respondents from a Sterling Heights city survey had plenty of positive things to say about city services, according to a recent presentation from a polling firm.

During the Sept. 20 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the public learned the results of a resident survey that went out to thousands of residents this summer. City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the city surveys its residents every three or four years to gauge opinions on services. He explained that the city will use the survey to fine-tune services, especially when the strategic planning season occurs.

“It’s not an easy process to go through,” Vanderpool said regarding the surveys. “It takes some time, and you have to actually fill out the mail survey, so we really do appreciate the community input.”

The Kansas-based ETC Institute, which specializes in surveys for city and county governments, ran the survey this summer, contacting a demographically representative sample of residents.

According to ETC Institute Director of Community Research Jason Morado, the survey took residents an estimated 15-20 minutes to finish. He said surveys were mailed to 3,200 households, and 524 residents successfully responded. Morado added that a 15% response rate was expected, and they ended up getting around a 16% response rate.

“So we made sure we had a good representation by key demographic areas such as age, race, ethnicity and gender,” he said.

The survey asked questions about services, policies, priorities and happiness, and enough respondents participated to put the survey at a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3% at a 95% confidence level. That confidence level, Morado explained, means that running the survey the same way 100 times would produce the same margin of error 95 times.

“The results aren’t perfect, but really it is a very small margin of error,” he added.

The institute said Sterling Heights residents’ satisfaction ratings met or exceeded the national average for communities in 43 out of 48 areas. For instance, 77% of responding residents think Sterling Heights’ city services meet their standards, while the average for the U.S. north central region is 54% and the country is 59%.

Respondents gave the city an 86% approval rating as a place of live, giving a good or excellent reply. And 82% approved of the city’s image as an excellent or good place to raise kids.

In addition, 66% of respondents are satisfied with the value they receive for tax dollars and fees, which is significantly higher than the national average of 44%.

The research also showed Sterling Heights’ satisfaction far outpacing the national average — by 16% to 41% — for park amenities, the bike/hike trail system, special events, recreational programs and the programs’ affordability.

“In particular, the ratings are really high for recreation programming, for adults, seniors and youth,” he said. “In all three areas, the ratings are just about double the regional national average.”

The survey results revealed that 97% of respondents feel safe during the daytime in their neighborhoods, and 91% are satisfied with fire service protection, while 86% are with police protection.

Morado said the survey reveals that the community’s top priorities over the next couple of years are maintaining major city and neighborhood streets; monitoring traffic flow and managing congestion; ensuring police visibility in neighborhoods; cleaning up residential debris; and promoting the upkeep of residential lawns.

He explained that while the survey results “are very, very positive overall,” these priorities stem in part from relatively lower satisfaction ratings. For instance, only 49% of residents were satisfied with the city’s traffic flow and congestion management, compared to the national average of 56%.

“Now when you look at the benchmarking comparisons, these areas are either a little below or some cases even a little above the national average,” he said. “So it’s not that the satisfaction ratings are really low for these areas, but just lower compared to other items on the survey.”

In addition, the survey showed that Sterling Heights tied the U.S. average for satisfaction with police visibility in neighborhoods at 62%, and the city fell below the national average for satisfaction with local traffic law enforcement, 58% versus 60%, and police visibility in retail areas, 54% versus 62%.

Among the other questions the survey asked respondents, 92%-7% believe that the community is inclusive. However, the respondents rejected 70%-30% a hypothetical proposal to let residents keep up to four chickens per property for personal egg consumption.

When council members responded to the presentation, Councilman Michael Radtke pointed out that only 25 respondents identified as Arab or Middle Eastern, or about 5% of respondents, while internally the city believes that around 25% of residents are Middle Eastern.

“I’m wondering how the survey can be accurate if it’s not engaging with what would be a quarter of our population,” Radtke said. “I’m just curious, because 77% white Caucasian makes sense because that rightly correlates with our numbers, and maybe people are identifying themselves as white instead of Arab/Middle Eastern.

“But it would strike me that if you go to the west side of our city, anything west of Mound Road, you’re going to be in a very large Chaldean enclave. And if they’re not represented in this survey, I have to wonder about its accuracy.”

Morado said the demographics are “very similar” to the survey it took in Sterling Heights in 2017. Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski said she has some very close Chaldean friends who identify as white American and not Arab American. Radtke later noted that two other people in the survey identified as “Other: Chaldean American.”

Mayor Michael Taylor thanked Morado for his presentation.

“There’s a lot for us to dig into and it certainly is very helpful, and we appreciate your expertise,” Taylor said.

Learn more about the 2021 Residential Survey by visiting www.sterling-heights.net/survey. Learn more about ETC Institute by visiting www.etcinstitute.com.

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