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Survey says: How do resident rate life in River Falls?

RIVER FALLS – The results for the 2021 River Falls community survey are in, as the River Falls City Council heard Tuesday, Oct. 26 during a presentation by Management Analyst Fellow Kathryn Paquet. While the community’s overall opinion of life in River Falls is positive, there are opportunities to improve.

In July 2021, the city partnered with the National Research Center/Polco to conduct the National Community Survey (developed in conjunction with the International City/County Management Association). It has partnered with this organization before in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. Many questions remain the same each year the survey is administered, so the city can analyze historical trends. Plus, 600 other communities participate in the NCS, giving River Falls a benchmark pool against which to compare its performance to municipalities nationwide.

“Insights gained from the community survey can help the City of River Falls improve service delivery by highlighting areas of need and assisting staff and council in identifying and prioritizing strategic goals,” Paquet said in a memo.

The survey examines community opinion on 10 broad livability facets, including economy, mobility, community design, utilities, safety, natural environment, parks and recreation, health and wellness; education, arts and culture; inclusivity and engagement.

The city randomly selected 2,700 city addresses to send the survey to; of those, 3% of the mailed surveys were returned by the postal service as undeliverable. Of the remaining 2,612 households that received the survey, 557 completed it, which is a response rate of 21%, down 8% form 2019. About 130 surveys completed were submitted online.

Survey results are weighted in order to provide a sample representation of the city’s population. What this means is NRC compared the demographics of survey respondents to the demographics of the city’s population, then weighted the results using age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, housing type and housing tenure demographics. The reason for this is the disproportionate percentage of respondents. For example, 13% of respondents were ages 18-34, while that age group accounts for 53% of the city’s population. On the flip side, adults 55+ accounted for 60% of respondents, although they comprise 24% of the city’s population. The margin of error is 4% for all respondents.

Paquet outlined highlights of the survey results. For “overall quality of life,” 31% said excellent, 57% good, 11% fair and 1% poor.

Overall quality of life

92% rate city as excellent or good place to live 92% are very or somewhat likely to recommend living in River Falls to others 83% are very or somewhat likely to remain in River Falls for the next five years Paquet described these numbers as “really, really impressive numbers.”

Highlights of livability: Areas rated excellent or good by 80+% of respondents Overall quality of utility infrastructure: 82% Overall quality of natural environment: 93% Overall quality of parks and recreation opportunities: 87% Overall feeling of safety: 93% Other livability strength highlights include the following, which Paquet called “pretty exceptional:”

Utilities & Public Works (rated excellent or good)

Power (electric and/or gas): 87% Sewer services: 85% Stormwater management: 86% Utility billing: 83% Street cleaning: 80%

Public safety (rated excellent or good)

Fire Department: 95% Fire prevention/education: 90% Crime prevention: 82% Police/sheriff services (includes city police and county sheriff’s department): 80%

Natural environment, parks and rec, library (rated excellent or good)

River Falls Public Library: 95% City parks: 89% Recreation programs/classes: 70% Availability of paths/trails: 84% The following answers/results were classified as “livability opportunities,” where the city can make some improvements.

Affordable housing (rated excellent or good)

2021: 39% positive rating 2019: 34% positive rating 2013: 60% positive rating

Shopping (variety of businesses/service establishments): 4/10 rating; shopping in general: 2/10 rating. Paquet said this is lower than the national community average.

Public transportation: Five percent of respondents used public transportation in the past year, with 20% rating their experience as positive. About 75% of respondents chose to walk or bike instead of using a vehicle, at some point over the past year.

Diversity and inclusion: This was the first year the city asked about these topics, so there is no historical trend from which to draw a conclusion. The question measured the extent to which respondents felt their community as a whole (not just the city staff) welcomes, values and accepts individuals with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Valuing/respecting residents from diverse backgrounds: 60% (rated as excellent or good) Attracting people from diverse backgrounds: 45% Being open and accepting toward those with diverse background: 53%

Government performance: Fairly consistent from 2013 to present, but with a downward trajectory in overall confidence.

Overall confidence in city government: 55% positive rating. Historical average is 62%.

Value of services for taxes paid: 59%. Historical average is 58%.

Overall direction River Falls is taking: 65%. Historical average is 67%.

Customer service: This question is unique to River Falls alone in the NCS. Impression of employee( s) in most recent contact: Knowledge: 92% positive rating Responsiveness: 90% Courtesy: 89% Overall impression: 88% The big win in this category, Paquet pointed out, is that from 2019 to 2021, there was no decline in residents’ impressions of city staff throughout the Covid pandemic.

The staff will continue to review data, which will provide insight for the upcoming 2023-24 budget process. To view the full report, go to rfcity.org

Other business

The council approved a resolution authorizing special assessment police powers for the benefit of the River Falls Business Improvement District. The annual assessment to fund improvements to the downtown district is $44,500.

Ordinance appropriating the necessary funds for the operating of the government and administration of the City of River Falls for 2022 (first reading). The total all funds budget is $41,904,231, of which 17% is funded by general property taxes. No change was made to the levy amount of $7,135,000 adopted by the City Council as part of the two-year budget plan.

First reading of an ordinance requiring an informational sign be physically posted at addresses undergoing a special use permit application.

First reading of an ordinance ratifying the redistricting resolution passed on Oct. 12, 2021.

The council voted to award a construction bid to A1 Excavating in the amount of $2,959,480.32 for the elimination of the Kinnickinnic River sanitary sewer lift station and the construction of a gravity sewer main along the east side of the river between the North Main Street bridge and Division Street.

The council approved a resolution approving the 2022-2025 contract between the city and the River Falls Police Department Employees’ Association. Starting hourly wages are listed as $30.16; the AA level for wages is $37.55 hourly.

The council approved a resolution authorizing City Administrator Scot Simpson to execute contract(s) for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

The council approved development agreement addendum No. 2 with King’s HWY LLC for the Highview Meadows subdivision.

The council approved a developer’s agreement and a purchase agreement with Calda Donna Inc. (BOH Electronics, Inc.), who is purchasing and developing four acres in the Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park.

November 3, 2021