Affordable housing is the number-one issue in Ashland followed by smoke and other issues, including homelessness, water quality, utility rate increases and services for seniors. That’s according to responses from the first Engage Ashland survey conducted by the city in October as presented to the City Council at its Nov. 20 business meeting.
Madding said it’s important to note that these answers were supplied by the survey as options.
The survey also asked what the best and worst moments were for Ashland this year. Smoke and fires were the top answer for both; when the fires and smoke began was the worst and when the smoke cleared was the best.
Other best moments included events such as parades, the honoring of Officer Malcus Williams, the lighting of the World Peace Flame and the Ashland Food Project.
Other worst moment responses included events such as utility bill increases, the Parks and Recreation Commission recall, the senior center reorganization, hiring police officers without adequate funding, bad downtown behavior and a rise in homelessness.
Some common concerns that cropped up included topics such as transients, the budget and overspending, deer becoming overpopulated and utility bill rate increases.
“These things a lot of people talked about when we went door to door (on Thursday, Oct. 11),” Madding said.
The survey asked where citizens go for city information: 23 percent said the Ashland Daily Tidings, 15 percent said word of mouth and 13 percent said social media. Other answers include sources such as a city source, Nixle, the city website and council meetings.
Madding said this was key information because the city needs to know what the most efficient way to get information to citizens is.
“15 percent of people say the majority of where they get their information from is word of mouth which I found fascinating and charming at the same time,” Madding said.
Participants said they would like to get more information from the Mail Tribune and the Ashland Daily Tidings, social media (specifically Facebook), email, surveys, a more user-friendly website, RVTV, the Next Door app and town hall meetings.
The door-to-door visits were conducted Sunday, Oct. 11, by seven teams consisting of City Council members, the mayor and city staff, city Administrator Kelly Madding said. An online survey for all citizens, not just those of the homes visited, offered further insight into what’s on community minds.
“This was an effort to reach out to citizens in Ashland at their homes,” Madding said.
Both the survey and city staff asked broad questions about topics such as services provided by the city, issues the community is facing and city communication platforms. Direct issues such as street repairs were relayed to departments to consider, Madding said in her presentation to the council.
Almost all 140 homes selected in random sections of town were visited. A postcard was sent out to the homes beforehand.
Of those 138 people who took the survey, the majority fell between the age range of 61-70 and slightly more were women. Most participants were Caucasian. 73 percent of participants said the quality of life in Ashland was very good to excellent and only 1 percent said it was poor.
As part of the survey, participants were asked to rate various city services. Fire and rescue, city parks, police and public safety and water quality all ranked very high, but 53 percent of participants ranked utility billing as average or above and 52 percent rated street maintenance and repair as average or above.
“Please keep in mind that during the time we issued the survey, we were in a software transition in our utility billing that was like most software conversions, and it was difficult,” Madding said. “But I feel overall citizens feel that we are providing good services.”
Madding said the timing of the outreach, which took place just weeks before the November election, had nothing to do with trying to influence voters.
Not everyone is home in the summer, she said, then they’re getting settled into school routines in September, and by November it’s cold and dark outside. It’s a strange thing when someone is on your front porch at night, Madding said. So October is the perfect time for the fall visits.
“In October, the weather is still fairly nice and it’s still light outside and in November it’s not,” Madding said. “That’s simply the reason.”
This program is modeled after a similar program conducted by Madding’s former employer, the city of Medford, where it’s known as Operation CARE (Community Awareness Rejuvenation Effort). There visits are conducted in the fall and in the spring.
Madding said she hopes another Engage Ashland event will happen this spring. Staff will select different random areas of town to visit next time, if there is a next time.
“The current sitting council, I think, believes it was a good project and wants to see it continued.” Madding said. But ultimately it will be the new City Council that decides whether to continue the program.
Madding said she’ll present all of the data collected from this past event to the new council before they begin setting city goals in January or February.
“I’ll say anecdotally, when I went out with my team, which consisted of the police chief and the city attorney, most of what we heard was Ashland is a great place to live,” Madding said.
For complete results of the survey, visit Ashland.or.us/outreach.