Riversiders like where they live and believe in general that the village provides good services, but they think Riverside’s business districts are lacking in both appearance and selection. At least that’s what residents who filled out the village’s community survey this year felt.

Riverside last week released the results of its 2005 survey, which evaluated village services, facilities and departments; asked whether the village should build (and how to fund) a community/recreation center; and probed residents’ feelings about economic development.

The last time the village surveyed residents was in 2003, and the poll was analyzed by village staff. This year, the survey was prepared by the Public Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University.

As a result, more residents (all registered voters) were asked to participate in the survey and many more people responded than in 2003. This year the survey was sent to 1,000 registered voters, chosen at random. The village received a response rate of 67 percent.

That was in marked contrast to 2003, when the survey was sent to just 600 residents, 40 percent of whom responded.

Hiring the university to do the work cost the village $6,700, but the additional cost (between $2,000 and $3,000) allowed for more detailed analysis and more follow-up with participants, which increased the response rate, said Village Manager Kathleen Rush.

Of those who responded, 96 percent said that Riverside was a good or excellent place to live, with less than 1 percent describing the village as a poor place to live. In addition, 97 percent said they felt safe and secure.

Where residents differed was their perception of Riverside as a good value for their money. Newcomers to Riverside?”those who lived in the village for five years or less?”were the most positive about the value they got for their tax dollar. They were also the most negative. Meanwhile, residents who lived in Riverside for six to 10 years responded most often that Riverside’s value per tax dollar was “average.”

Overall, just 9 percent of respondents felt Riverside was an “excellent” value, and 10 percent described Riverside as a “poor” value for their tax dollar. The most common responses were that Riverside was a “good” value (44 percent) or “average” (32 percent).

Focus on Building Department

With respect to village services, the survey singled out the Building Department for scrutiny, asking residents to rate the service they received. Just 15 percent of respondents reported working with the Building Department in the past six months, but a good number of those people expressed some frustration with the experience.

Thirty-three percent of respondents said that the information they were given by the Building Department was inadequate and the most frequent comment of respondents related to the “negative attitude of employees.” The other most frequent comments were that the Building Department was “unresponsive to complaints and questions” and that the village needed “more understandable information and codes.”

“Of all the departments, we got the most negative comments on the building department,” Rush said, “and we looked at why that could be from a staff perspective.”

Rush explained the former Building Director Michael Marro was out ill for good parts of last year prior to his retirement last Dec. 30. After his departure, the village contracted out some of it its code inspection work until Bob Caraher was hired as building director.

“We also looked at what other aspects of the Building Department we do at the front desk,” Rush said. “We’ve had three meetings on this already and are developing an action plan.”

Overall, however, 72 percent of respondents rated the quality of village services as either “excellent” (14 percent) or “good” (57 percent). Just over 2 percent said the quality of village services was “poor” or “very poor.”

Village departments receiving the highest marks for satisfaction were the village’s police and fire departments. The Recreation Department and Public Works Department also received good marks, with a couple of caveats.

Some 19 percent of respondents rated the village’s recreational facilities as average and below average and 18 percent said the variety of recreational programs was average or below average.

Respondents, however, solidly (by a margin of 63 to 34 percent) backed the idea of building a community center for increasing educational and recreational opportunities in the village. Newcomers to the village and younger respondents were most strongly in favor of a community center.

Those who didn’t favor a community center cited the cost (54 percent) as the biggest negative, while some 50 percent said the village’s current facilities already meet Riverside’s recreational needs.

However, almost everyone who responded to the survey agreed that they were not in favor of a tax referendum to fund a community center. Just 7 percent of respondents favored a tax referendum, while 49 percent favored fundraising as an alternative.

“One of the reasons we included the question was to assist the village board in their strategic planning effort,” Rush said. “When you look at the facilities question, there’s overwhelming support for it, and if we can find a creative way for funding then people will be interested in a positive way.”

Meanwhile, 37 percent of respondents rated the village’s roads as average or below average, while 28 percent complained of average or below average water pressure.

At the same time, residents rated road improvements as their highest priority for capital improvement projects, with over one-third of respondents calling road improvements the most important area needing attention.

Service cut feelers

The survey also probed for what kind of service cuts residents might stomach in the future. Residents were informed that the village’s operating revenues were strained and asked to rate the importance of maintaining three current village services at current levels.

Residents overwhelmingly (85 percent) responded that they wanted snow plowing and street salting upon any accumulation of snow. In addition, 77 percent said they wanted the grass on public lands cut before it reaches 6 inches. Respondents were split, however, with respect to streetsweeping. A total of 46 percent said streetsweeping should be maintained while 45 percent said it should be reduced.

Additionally, 43 percent of residents said the village should improve the look of its parks and 40 percent said the village should work harder to bring more businesses into the village.

With respect to the village’s garbage collection, while 73 percent of residents said they take advantage of Riverside’s twice-weekly refuse collection, 66 percent said that once-a-week pickup would be sufficient.

Wanted: businesses

Where Riversiders found the village most lacking was its business districts. In rating the job current businesses in Riverside were doing to fulfill residents’ shopping and service needs, 42 percent rated them as “poor” or “very poor.” On the flipside, 20 percent rated the business mix as “good,” and just 3 percent said businesses did an “excellent” job fulfilling their shopping and service needs.

To help attract businesses, 80 percent of respondents said they’d support village incentives to aid in economic development as well as improve parking in the central business district.

When it came to the types of businesses Riversiders would like to see in the central business district, food topped the list. Forty-five percent of respondents said that grocery/take home food businesses were most important to have. Second on the list was restaurants at 25 percent.

Rating low on the list were entertainment/art galleries/theater (5 percent), antiques, crafts, gifts (3 percent) and tourism (2 percent).

“There are a lot of questions about how do you support economic development [on a village staff level],” Rush said. “If we want to be successful we have to put our money where our mouth is, because it requires a lot of work. Unless we do this [with some sort of staff or consultant] it’s just not going to get done.”

In addition, while 84 percent of respondents said that village maintenance of the central business district was a priority for them, nearly a third of them felt that the appearance of the central business district was less than satisfactory.