Village Survey: We Asked and You Responded...
By Michael Baumann, Village Trustee
Over the last several months the Board of Trustees has been developing a strategic plan for the Village. The plan is intended to provide a long range guide to address the top priorities for the Village and its residents for the next five – 10 years. While the Board had its own ideas for top priorities, it was also important to align the Trustees’ and residents’ opinions. Hence, we sent out a survey to capture your ideas, opinions and priorities.
The survey focused on capturing information in five areas: a) rating the Village’s current performance; b) identifying residents’ top priorities for the Village; c) how best to communicate with residents; d) resident demographic data; and e) why people tend to move to Riverwoods and stay here. The last area, why people tend to stay in the Village for a long time, was originally observed in US census data. In 2000, the median age in the Village was 50 years, while in 2010 the median age was 60. This suggested that residents were staying put in the Village and the change in median age represented the same people as they aged over the decade between US censuses. If that was truly the case, it would be important to identify the reasons why people stayed in the Village to help guide Village policy and ordinances in order to maintain the qualities that people desire about our community.
There must have been some pent-up demand for expressing your opinions because we achieved a great response rate of 30%. (Thirty percent may not seem that great but for public surveys it is well above the norm of single-digit response rates and it beats the previous resident survey from 2004, which only had a 10% response rate.) With a 30% response rate and representation from all over the Village plus some statistical analysis, we were convinced that the survey responses were highly likely to be a representative sample of Village residents.
What We Learned from the Survey
Current Village Performance
- Resident’s opinion of the public safety services (police & fire) and providing the Village services is very good with both categories having at least 55% of responses being rated as Excellent. If combined with the Good rating these two categories have over an 85% favorable rating.
- The Village rated the lowest for Supporting Village Businesses with nearly 60% of survey responses saying they did not know.
- Residents also expressed a significant amount of uncertainty (Don’t Know response) on the Village’s management of Finances (30% don’t know), managing property use & zoning (20% don’t know) and managing storm water (16% don’t know).
- For the remaining categories, survey responses were at least 60% favorable (Excellent + Good), which suggested a general satisfaction with Village performance.
- In many survey responses, residents changed their priorities for the Village when they needed to consider raising revenues to address the priorities. While the Village is not currently considering raising taxes or current user fees, the survey data is useful to help the Board understand for what residents are willing to pay extra.
- When the sets of priorities were combined, the top five priorities from residents were:
- Village-owned infrastructure
- Adequate level of police services
- Financial planning
- Traffic flow and congestion
- Village services
- Each of these priorities were roughly equal in priority in general and if additional revenue was necessary.
- Sixteen percent of all survey responses indicated that none of the priorities were worth raising revenues.
- There was no one dominant form of communication preferred by residents, however there was a clear preference for push-type communication. Push communications are served directly to residents rather than requiring a resident to take any additional action such as visit a website.
- For most of the types of information, residents wanted information sent to them in either email, a direct mailing, or included in the Village Voice newsletter. Residents did prefer either direct phone calls or text messages for safety alerts and traffic/construction alerts.
- The age demographics continued the trend of an aging population who have lived in the Village for at least two decades. Over 64% of residents were over the age of 56 with 36% over the age of 65. While this is consistent with the trend in the US census data, the Village has nearly three times the population of people over 65 than the national average.
- In terms of people’s time in the village, over 57% of residents have lived in the village for over 15 years with many residents living here for much longer than 15 years. What was unexpected was the spike in residents living in the village for less than five years. Twenty percent of residents fell into this category. What was further unexpected with this group was that 27% of residents living in the village for five years or less were 56 or older.
- With the population of the village skewed to residents 56 or older it was not surprising to find that 58% of households in the Village have no children.
- These two observations indicate that in addition to young families moving to the village there is also a significant segment of older couples with no children that is also moving to the Village.
What is the motivation behind these distinct groups of residents to move to the Village and stay?
- While additional analysis is ongoing with the resident sentiment, there are several characteristics to which a large majority of residents either agreed or strongly agreed:
- The woodlands are an essential aspect of the Village character (78% agree/strongly agree)
- Larger lot sizes and good schools are a key factor (71% agree/strongly agree)
- Privacy is a main reason for living in the Village (66% agree/strongly agree)
It is not enough to just capture residents’ opinions. The Board now needs to translate these opinions into action. Before the end of the year, the Board will incorporate the learnings from the survey into the strategic plan. We will conduct focus groups with residents. The survey provided us with what your opinions are, while focus groups can provide an opportunity for you to explain why you have a particular opinion. Once complete, the strategic plan will include specific actions to be implemented in 2016.
Part of the future communication will include information on managing the Village’s finances, managing storm water, and managing open space within the Village. We are also looking into additional public forums for two-way communication between the Board and residents on these and other top priorities for our community.
In closing we want to thank everyone that contributed to the success of the resident survey. The value of the information obtained far exceeded the cost of conducting the survey.