Justice Center determines Mat-Su service needs

Most Matanuska-Susitna Borough residents are not afraid of becoming victim of any sort of crime, yet over 70 percent kept a firearm in the home. Only 7 percent attend neighborhood watch meetings.

Those are a couple of findings from a recently conducted state survey. The University’s Justice Center administered an annual survey of residents in the Mat-Su Borough that addressed their level of satisfaction in areas such as government services, neighborhood communities and taxation.

Dr. Sharon Chamard, an associate professor in the Justice Department and lead researcher for this project, said there were two purposes for the survey.

“One is to guide the policy makers of Mat-Su Borough, give them a sense of what the citizens there want in terms of development,” Chamard said. “It’s also for the faculty, as it provides us a very rich set of data about opinions.”

Each year analysis is conducted once the data collection is completed. The survey is ongoing, with the fifth report set for completion this fall. Long-term analysis indicates that the people in the Mat-Su Borough community have been and continue to be satisfied.

“People are more satisfied,” Chamard said. “They weren’t dissatisfied in the first place, but there is a slight increase in all of the measures of satisfactions.”

The most recent of the reports was released in May. Results showed that road, plowing, landfill and library services were ranked highest by residents, which all received ratings higher than 65 percent. The worst service the Borough provided, according to the residents, was dissemination of its own news and information.

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Over 82 percent of residents rated their neighborhood as an excellent place to live, while 67 percent said they their neighbors.

Although the residents reported their trust of one another, the survey also showed a general lack of sociability, with over 40 percent saying they visited with their neighbors less than once a month.

While 66 percent of residents rated road services as good or better, over 42 percent think they pay too much for the service.

Numerous residents would like to seek a different way to fund road maintenance. Nearly half of the residents said they would support an increase in tobacco and alcohol taxes to pay for certain services.

Chamard is the only faculty member currently working on the analysis project. Each year the Justice Center hires students, typically justice majors, to assist with the research.

Over 2,700 surveys were sent out in 2009, and the Justice Department received an impressive 51 percent response rate.
Chamard credited the survey methodology.

“We follow the design method,” she said. “It’s a pretty rigorous methodology.”

The design method requires contacting prospective respondents at least four times. The department also created an online survey in hopes of increasing responses. A two-dollar bill accompanied the mailed surveys, which were meant to serve as extra incentive to complete and mail them back to Anchorage.

The Mat-Su Borough funds the survey and receives a report each year.

“We track the changes and address them as per departments,” Carol Vardeman said, who works in the Borough manager’s office.

The manager’s office also advertises the results at local schools and libraries, so the public can “See what we are doing well and what we need to do better,” according to Vardeman.

Chamard pointed out that this survey allows the Borough the opportunity to hear from all citizens rather than only those that are civically active.

“I think it is important for politicians and decision makers within the government to have a good sense of what the citizens want,” Chamard said. “So often the voices that guide policy making are the very vocal citizens, but they are not always the most typical person. A survey like this can reach out to all parts of the population and perhaps give a fuller view to policy makers.”