OCEAN CITY – The results of the National Citizen Survey, sent out to a random sampling of Ocean City residents, were released this week, giving town officials insight into some of the thoughts and opinions of residents.
Dr. Thomas Miller of the National Research Center presented the Mayor and Council with the results of the surveys at Monday night’s council meeting.
Random samples of 3,000 households were sent surveys. Although some of the surveys were sent back after failing to reach appropriate addresses, 839 surveys were completed and returned. In total, the survey maintained a survey rate of 39 percent, which, according to Dr. Miller, is on the high end. Average survey rate results typically lie between 25 and 40 percent.
Miller pointed out that only 23 percent of those who filled out the surveys have attended a public meeting of the Mayor and Council or public hearing.
The survey presented a profile of the residents in Ocean City, revealing some geographic and demographic facts about residents. Of those who completed the survey, 26 percent have lived in Ocean City over 20 years. Ninety-six percent reported to be over the age of 34 with an additional 39 percent over the age of 64. Forty-eight percent are currently employed. Seventy-five percent claimed to live north of the Route 90 Bridge with 93 percent of survey participants owning their home and 7 percent renting.
Councilman Jay Hancock pointed out the survey was lacking in the voice of the younger generation, noting that those over the age of 55 are more likely to fill out the survey.
The overall quality of life fared well in the survey with 60 percent of participants rating the quality of life as “good” and 18 percent rating it as “excellent”.
The three highest rated characteristics in Ocean City were, recreation opportunities, air quality, and overall appearance. The characteristics causing the most concern to citizens were reported as, too much growth, taxes, and traffic congestion. Miller pointed out the major problems citizens reported Ocean City to be facing were, in comparison, good problems to have.
“If there are problems to have these are the problems to have…these are problems of affluence,” he said.
The problems rated as the lowest of citizens concerns were crime, homelessness and graffiti.
Several questions required participants to rate certain areas on a 100-point scale with 100 being the highest. Those results were then compared to other cities and towns with populations between 10-75,000. Areas that were rated above the norm in comparison were, Ocean City as a good place to live, which received a score of 67, as a place to retire, 63, and overall quality of life, 65. Areas scoring below the norm were, a good place to raise kids, 50, good place to work, 45, overall quality of new development, 46, and shopping opportunities, 50. Public parking scored low with 39.
Public trust was also an area that scored weaker than expected. When asked if you are pleased with the overall direction that the local government is taking, participants reported an average score of 45. In rating whether the town government listens to citizens, the average score was a 49.
The citizens were presented with three policy questions, which were selected by the Mayor and Council. Policy question number one asked participants whether they supported allowing buildings to be taller than five stories in certain areas in exchange for neighborhood protections such as shadow controls, wider sidewalks, and more landscaping. Thirty-four percent of participants strongly opposed with 18 percent showing strong support.
The second policy question asked whether participants supported or opposed the reduction of street width for vehicles to provide additional space for public transportation, bicycles or pedestrians. The results were split with 53 percent in support and 47 percent in opposition.
The last policy question aimed to gather to what degree participant support or oppose the Mayor and Council’s continued support of Ocean City’s tourism industry. Forty-eight percent showed strong support with 5 percent showing strong opposition. Miller pointed out discrepancies with these results, noting that while the majority supports the council’s support of tourism, the majority also reported to be opposed to increasing growth in Ocean City, two issues, which inevitably go hand in hand. In fact, the number one concern reported among participants was growth.
“Over development-getting rid of the authentic ‘beach house’ in lieu of large condominiums,” wrote one participant.
Miller presented the conclusions of the surveys, identifying the reported strengths as, overall quality of life, safety, and core services. The challenges facing Ocean City seem to be growth, traffic congestion, public The next step, if the council wishes to delve further, would be a policy exploration survey, focus groups, and staff workshops. After hearing the information presented, the City Council members weighed in, pointing out areas they agreed or disagreed with.
“As far as a place to raise children, I think it’s a great place to raise children,” Councilman Lloyd Martin said, disagreeing with the low score reported on the question rating whether Ocean City is a good place to raise children.
Councilman Jim Hall pointed out some promising areas that the surveys revealed. Three areas that he noted were, public safety, which received high marks across the board, various levels of government and the courtesy, knowledge and responsiveness of employees. “These are real high marks and I’m proud of them,” Hall said of the high-ranking categories.