Fewer Salemites are happy with the services they’re getting from the city, and residents still view homelessness as a top priority.
That’s according to the city of Salem’s annual community satisfaction survey. The city released results on Thursday.
In September, the survey asked 400 Salemites, online and over the phone, a series of questions including their level of satisfaction with city services and their biggest concerns.
57% said they were satisfied with services provided by the City, which include police and fire departments, ambulance services, streets, parks, water and more.
That’s a decrease from 70% in 2021 and 86% in 2020.
The questions aim to help the city better understand community interests when developing its priority agenda, said City Manager Keith Stahley. City councilors are holding a special meeting Monday to discuss council priorities for the upcoming year.
“Clearly, our community is telling us that homelessness and responding to homelessness remain a really significant concern. That is evident,” Stahley said.
57% of residents listed homelessness and poverty as the top issue they want the City to address. The second most popular response was crime and drugs at 16%.
Homelessness has been the top response since the survey began in 2017, though that year it was selected by a smaller portion – 27% – of respondents. That year, only 1% of respondents listed crime and drugs as a top issue.
Stahley said that responding to homelessness and the housing crisis is already the first priority on the city’s existing policy agenda, followed by community engagement, planning for the future and sustainable infrastructure.
“As far as my reading of the survey, (it) tells us to stay the course,” he said. “To continue to focus on the housing and homeless crisis, continue to look for opportunities to build and enhance our services.”
Mayor Chris Hoy said Salem needs better communication about what the city is doing to address issues.
“It’s a challenge just to get the word out, and so I think a lot of times people don’t even know, necessarily, what we’re doing,” he said. That leads to lower satisfaction.
He recalled being on the campaign trail for mayor and meeting a lot of people who didn’t know about projects like permanent supportive housing, or upcoming projects like the navigation center and new microshelters.
“When I talk to them about the things that we’ve initiated in the past couple of years, people are very happy and very pleased to hear about the efforts we’re making and the progress we’ve made,” he said. “Are we done? No, of course not. But we’re making really good progress.”
Hoy said he also looks at other factors, such as the $300 million infrastructure bond that voters approved on Election Day. Salemites overwhelmingly approved funding a decade-long list of projects including street repairs, a new fleet of fire trucks and improvements to parks and the Civic Center.
“That said 65% of Salem residents want to invest in our community and are confident in the way we’re doing business,” he said. “I think you have to look at everything in the broader context, and that’s how I’m considering this survey.”
Both Hoy and Stahley pointed to national trends of dissatisfaction with government and the economy as potentially impacting survey responses.
“It’s always hard to hear when your community is dissatisfied with the levels of service,” Stahley said. “And as survey points out, there’s sort of a national trend there where people are dissatisfied with government and they’re dissatisfied with the state and with the federal government and I guess that translates into some dissatisfaction with the city of Salem.”
Overall, 61% of residents said the city was partly responsible for their satisfaction level, listing a combination of city and outside factors driving their responses on whether the city was on the right track.
The survey also addressed accessibility and equality of services. 10% of residents of color and 6% of people with incomes under $50,000 said it was not easy to be heard by city leaders, compared to 1% of white residents and 19% of residents who make over $150,000 a year.
Not every category received negative results. A majority, 73%, of residents said they are satisfied with 911, ambulance and emergency services and 67% are satisfied with water and sewage.
“We’re always looking to do better and to grow the city and take it in a positive direction. And I take this feedback as a way to do that,” Hoy said. “We have a new mayor, we have a new city manager. We have a new – for the most part – a new city council coming up and so I think it’s a real opportunity to take the city forward.”
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.