Kalispell Gauges Residents’ Perception of the City

By Beacon Staff

City administrators distributed surveys to 1,200 random residents earlier this month as a way to engage community members and gauge their perception of Kalispell.

Feedback is trickling in leading up to the May 21 deadline and City Manager Doug Russell plans to give an extensive presentation to the city council after the responses are compiled.

The questionnaire covers broad aspects of city life and the perceived quality of local services, operations, amenities and infrastructure.

Do residents feel safe in the city’s neighborhoods or parks during the day or at night? Is Kalispell a good place to raise children? Are services like police enforcement, animal control or emergency response satisfactory? Are the streets and sidewalks maintained well enough? Are city employees providing enough information to residents?

Russell’s goal is to have a clearer understanding of residents’ perceptions and opinions and identify areas that may need extra attention.

“We’re providing municipal services for the betterment of the community. It’s very important to engage the community regarding those services. We want their feedback,” Russell said. “This is an easy, low-cost way to get bunch of perspectives that are hopefully representative of the community.”

“Citizen surveys” were an effective tool for Russell during his previous stint as city manager in Yankton, S.D. The forms were mailed out annually and established a baseline that administrators could gauge from each year. Russell remolded the same survey specific to Kalispell, but said the city will distribute them every two years instead of annually.

“The first time or two these go out, you use those to establish a benchmark, so you can follow those trends over time,” he said. “This is a long-term effort to be able to track performances over the years. If something comes back that raised a red flag, we can look at why.”

The survey features three pages of questions under nine subjects — quality of life, perceptions of safety, police services, parks and recreation, fire and emergency medical service, communication and customer service, streets, public and environmental services, and overall ratings.

The topics are broad but the questions do not dive into too many specifics.

“We’d love to make it four more pages long and drill down to specifics, but you lose the interest of the public in terms of asking them to fill out too much,” Russell said. “This size worked previously.”

The forms were mailed to random residents and responses are anonymous. Russell said the city has received more than 300 completed surveys, but he hoped more would be returned before the deadline.

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