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Survey: citizens would support more taxes

...for recreation, public safety improvements

Posted: December 5, 2013 5:49 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A majority of Kershaw County citizens who participated in a recent survey said they would support additional taxes to increase recreation and public safety services provided by the county.

Students from the University of South Carolina’s (USC) Darla Moore School of Business, supervised by Dr. Subhash Sharma and Jeff Rehling of the USC Center for Marketing Solutions, presented the results Thursday morning at the Kershaw County Government Center.

Among the questions the survey asked was if respondents would “support the creation of additional funding through taxes in order to increase the services for public safety or parks and recreation. Sixty-seven percent of those participating said “yes” in regards to public safety, while 33 percent said “no.” In regards to parks and recreation, 56 percent said “yes,” while 44 percent said “no.”

According to the survey documents, Kershaw County Council commissioned the survey in an effort to enhance further economic growth as well as educational, social and cultural opportunities for citizens.

“Kershaw County has seen a recent influx of people moving into the area (and) council wants to consider the views and opinions of their constituents as there have been recent shifts in population,” the survey documents said.

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the survey evaluated “key areas” that a “variety of officials in Kershaw County wanted to understand more about.” Carpenter also said the survey looks for areas where the county can improve and that the results should be received with that in mind and not “taken personally,” especially if they were unfavorable. The survey was administered by Qualtrics both by phone and online, having respondents evaluate recreational facilities, community programs, public safety services, library system and technical college, and recycling and waste management.

Students said there were 513 total respondents -- more than expected. Two hundred eighty-four people responded online with another 229 answering questions by phone. Internet users tended to be younger while older residents with landlines tended to answer by phone.

Hannah Martin, one of several USC students making Thursday’s presentation, said that out of the five areas of services, the two that saw the lowest percentage of resident satisfaction were recreational facilities and public safety services. She explained that in both areas there is high awareness of the county’s offering of services, but low usage.

In regards to recreational facilities, 92 percent of respondents were aware that Kershaw County provides facilities such as parks, trails, sports fields and pools. However, out of those who were aware, 57.6 percent of respondents said they “rarely or sometimes” utilized the facilities; 25.9 percent said they “frequently or very frequently” used facilities; and 16.6 percent stated they “never” used them.

Of those respondents who said they either utilized the facilities “frequently or very frequently” or “rarely or sometimes,” 45.3 percent responded that they were “satisfied or very satisfied” with recreational facilities; 31 percent “neutral;” and 23.7 percent “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied” with the facilities.

Martin said that “among the dissatisfied respondents, poor maintenance and age of facilities are listed as top areas of improvement” and that the survey concluded that out “of those (residents) who participate, the most common concerns involve the cleanliness and upkeep of those facilities (and) many respondents suggested that the recreational facilities are in need of an upgrade.”

Fellow USC student Sam Davis presented the information on public safety services which, he said, includes the Kershaw County Sheriff’ Office, various fire departments, Kershaw County Animal Control and 911. Davis said 96 percent of respondents are aware the county provides public safety services, yet out of those who were aware, 68.8 percent “rarely or sometimes” use the service; 7.1 percent answered “frequently or very frequently;” and 24.1 percent answered “never” using the service.

Of those respondents that answered that they either utilized the public safety services “frequently or very frequently” or “rarely or sometimes,” 47.3 percent answered that they were “satisfied or very satisfied;” 40.6 percent “neutral;” and 12.1 percent “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied” with the service.

Davis said that an “insufficient amount of sheriff patrols and slow response times are greatest areas of dissatisfaction,” and that there was a desire expressed from both satisfied and unsatisfied respondents to “increase sheriff’s officers and deputies especially expanding to rural parts of the county as well as secondary roads” and to provide “more funding to all safety departments … as a means to improve response times.”

Rehling, a USC lecturer in addition to being the center’s director, said the survey’s overall aim was to “evaluate current public perceptions and opinions of the services provided by Kershaw county.” He said he and his group were not there Thursday to make recommendations about what should be done or shouldn’t be done.

“We’re here to be transparent, objective and share what your community shared with us,” he said.

Regarding the other areas of service evaluated:

• Community programs -- 80.5 percent of respondents said they were aware of such services, with 15.2 percent answering they “frequently or very frequently” use them; 39.3 percent said they “rarely or sometimes” use them; and 45.5 percent said they never use them. Of those respondents who “frequently or very frequently” or “rarely or sometimes” use community programs, 52.7 percent said they were “satisfied or very satisfied;” 36.9 percent said they were “neutral;” and 10.4 percent said they were “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.”

• Library Systems and Technical Colleges -- 80.8 percent awareness with 19.7 percent “frequently or very frequently” using them; 55.8 percent “rarely or sometimes” use them; and 24.5 percent “never” use them. Of those respondents who “frequently or very frequently” or “rarely or sometimes” use library systems and technical colleges, 62.9 percent said they were “satisfied or very satisfied;” 31 percent said they were “neutral;” and 6.1 percent said they were “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.”

• Recycling and Waste management -- 96.5 percent awareness with 69.6 percent “frequently or very frequently” using them; 25.5 percent said they “rarely or sometimes” use it; and 5.1 percent said they “never” use it. Of those respondents who “frequently or very frequently” or “rarely or sometimes” use recycling and waste management services, 79.7 percent were “satisfied or very satisfied;” 14.3 percent were “neutral;” and 6 percent were “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.”

Kershaw County Economic Director Peggy McLean asked if the phone surveys were concentrated specifically to certain parts of the county. USC student Tyler Wolfgang said the respondents were “fairly divided” throughout the county.  Carpenter said the students tried to keep the survey to be taken within a 10-minute time frame.

Kershaw County Recreation Director Joe Eason asked if any of the respondents who were not in favor of increasing taxes to improve recreation facilities offered “any explanation or expansion” of how they proposed to make improvements.

One student said that was a question they would “have like to have asked” that was in the “first draft of the survey, but due to time constraints, we ended up having to cut it.”

Rehling said that, in his experience, he has seen that “perception is reality” and that what respondents “interpret” to be happening is what they think is the truth, even though it’s sometimes not exactly the case. He said this happens when respondents try to compare Kershaw County to nearby counties.

Eason agreed and said while the results of the survey were “not surprising” they were somewhat “frustrating” because Kershaw County is being compared -- by its own residents -- to counties where there are “higher taxes and fees” in place.

Carpenter said that one overall conclusion that could be drawn is that people in the county do want “better services. They care about it. They point out where we’re weak because they hope we can make an improvement … let’s not use this as an indictment, but an opportunity to improve.”

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