Of the 650 survey respondents, 63 percent cited economic ills as a top issue, up from 44 percent in January 2010. The sharp rise is perhaps not surprising but reflects the continued fallout from Nevada’s nation-leading unemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosures rates.
“This is the first time in our survey’s history that citizens did not name growth and development issues as one of the top five issues facing our community,” said county spokesperson Kathy Carter.
A sign of the economic times can be seen in several trends identified by the survey. For example, more respondents reported having had contact with county government in the last year than in 2009. In addition, more respondents were able to list at least three services provided by the county.
Officials believe these results correspond with an increase in the need for social services as a result of the economic recession.
But three in five respondents also reported a noticeable decrease in the level of services provided, corresponding with a 16 percent reduction in government staff during the last 18 months.
Moreover, even as social service needs increased, respondents gave these programs their lowest satisfaction rating.
Among notable budget priorities, child protective services ranked the highest, even as few people actually use or have involvement with the service.
Criminal prosecution and funding for courts also ranked at the top, as they traditionally do.
Meanwhile, social services, community health programs and public libraries fell in the middle of the pack, and animal control and technology services ranked at the bottom.
Respondents living unincorporated parts of Washoe County reported that fire protection, law enforcement, water service and sewer service were most important.
Race and level of education played a role in the budget priorities of respondents, according to survey results.
For example, minorities reported a greater level of interest in funding for the county court system and juvenile detention programs, corresponding with national statistics that show a disproportionate number of minorities in the criminal justice system.
In all, minorities gave every county service, from courts to libraries to elections, a higher priority rating than did their white/Caucasian counterparts, even though minorities also report having significantly less contact with county employees–and by default, perhaps, social service programs.
College graduates report being more satisfied with county services than respondents with only a high school diploma or some college experience but no degree.
The survey reports that more residents were using the county’s website than ever before and that one in five respondents were interested in receiving county news via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Though just 45 percent of respondents gave Washoe County government a good job approval rating, that figure is little changed from previous surveys and officials said it was better than expected given that $123 million have been cut from the budget in the last four years.
The public polling survey, conducted by Reno-based analytical firm InfoSearch International, is the eighth since 1995 and represents a proportional distribution of the population, with 58 percent of respondents from Reno, 20 percent from Sparks and 22 percent from unincorporated Washoe County. The survey cost $17,500, down from previous years, according to county spokesperson Kathy Carter.