DUNEDIN — Concerns over the potential for uncontrolled growth that could ruin this city’s quaint charms were among major issues of concern for Dunedin residents that participated in a recent survey conducted for the city by RDS Research Data.
City Manager Jennifer Bramley said this is the first time the city conducted a survey of this intensity.
“The survey offered a lot of great information,” she told commissioners at an April 3, work session. Results and comments offered by residents, “the good, bad and ugly,” will act as a baseline when crafting future city budgets.
From Feb. 15 to March 27, 1,277 residents participated in the survey, with 246 offering comments and about 40 trying to take it more than once.
Initially hoping to get at least 300 surveys completed, Anne Wittine, RDS Research Data director data analysis and Walter J. Klages, RDS founder and CEO, marveled at the large response and residents’ mainly positive comments on how the city is operated.
The survey revealed 98.7 of residents feel Dunedin is an excellent or good place to live, 94 percent said it’s an excellent/good place to raise children, and 97.3 noted the city is an excellent/good place to retire. Wittine noted the city’s score in the retirement question is far above the national average of 81 percent.
“It’s an amazing stellar report card for Dunedin,” she added.
In the area of city services, when it came to the very satisfied/satisfied category, Dunedin Library and emergency services, police and fire, tied for the highest accolades with a 97.9 percent favorable rating. Parks and Recreation was a close second with a very satisfied/satisfied score of 95.9.
When it came to the overall aesthetics of the city, 92.6 percent of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the look of the city.
Two other city departments receiving high scores from residents who said they were either very satisfied or satisfied with service were Utilities which was third highest with 93.7 percent, followed fourth by Public Works with 90 percent.
Building Division and permitting received the lowest satisfaction score of all city departments with 69.6 percent of residents reporting they were satisfied or very satisfied.
In assessing how the city communicates with residents, 80.9 percent said they were either very satisfied or satisfied, placing the city communication division in 5th place.
In the survey residents were asked to list the multiple sources they utilize to receive city news. In a breakdown of where residents receive their information, Wittine reported 62.8 percent of residents receive news through word-of-mouth, 60 percent get information from the City of Dunedin website, another 60.6 percent said from Dunedin social media, and almost 60 percent, or 58.2 percent, rely on the Dunedin Beacon newspaper to get information.
Of those listing a news source, 16.7 percent reported they turn to the city’s longest running form of communication — Dunedin TV.
Traffic issues received the lowest satisfaction score with only 44.7 percent of respondents saying they were satisfied or satisfied. Comments ranged from concerns over increased traffic and the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and how golf carts enter into the equation.
“We need a completely total focus on traffic issues and we need it yesterday. There is an accident waiting to happen out there, but a lot of traffic we don’t control. We have to figure out the biggest issues and biggest threat,” said Commissioner Maureen Freaney.
Commissioner Jeff Gow said the city needs to hire a traffic engineer.
Wittine noted two-thirds of respondents or 61.7 percent want the city to plan better for the future in order to preserve its quaint charm.
“Overall, what we saw was a phenomenally satisfied resident base, whose only real concern is that growth happens in a way that protects the city,” she said.
“When it comes to public safety, it’s not the policing and it’s not crime and really not homelessness; it’s traffic,” she advised commissioners. “We were blown away with how much your residents love the city of Dunedin, how engaged they are and how much ownership they take over the city. They are phenomenally protective of the quietness, the quaintness small town charm, the sense of community that makes it so important to them and makes it such a great place to be.”
Their primary concern about growth is that it be carefully managed to ensure the city’s infrastructure, particularly the road system, can handle the pace of population increase. Traffic is the number one concern, she said.
“Effective communication channels will let them know you are on top of some of these things that are concerns, and that although it takes time to address them, that it’s not being totally ignored,” she advised.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said, “the top three concerns were overdevelopment, traffic of many different pieces and affordable housing.”
Commissioner Deborah Kynes added all three items fall into the category of planning for the future.
Commissioner Jeff Gow said residents are screaming about traffic problems.
“We need to listen to them, the residents are our canaries,” she said.
Commissioner Maureen Freaney said “the balance of development and the traffic they do scream out at you, as something that is a very valid fear that can really hurt our city in the future; obviously those are things we need to focus on.”
“We already started to focus on some of the stuff with development, because we’ve done some major code changes and that’s great, but traffic is something people talk about all the time,” Freaney said.
“Some of it, like coming up Alt. U.S. 19, is not even our traffic,” Freaney explained. “It’s traffic coming through our town and it’s the same thing when traffic gets backed up on Curlew, it’s the thru traffic.”
“They are screaming at us because these are things that can change what we love,” Freaney said.
Commissioners noted the city has little control over major traffic routes such as Alt. U.S. 19, Curlew Road, S.R. 580, and other state highways that run through Dunedin.
Bujalski said the city can do more to keep residents better informed.
“We have to communicate a ton more in multiple ways; I think social media can quickly get the word out and can be followed up with a mailer direct to houses,” she said.
The city manager said, “as it relates to communication, and our communications division. We don’t know what we don’t know; all the changes and visioning were in the Beacon and that’s a major source of information for our residents.”
“Until the survey goes out we don’t really understand the degree of the problem, as far as lack of information that they are receiving,” the city manager explained. “We are pushing information out on our social media networks on a regular basis, but the one thing we don’t do is send out any magazine or periodical directly to our residents, saying this is what we did this quarter. Up until this survey we were under the impression that a lot of people knew what we were doing.”
“It’s multiple communication forms, is what it is,” the mayor said. “You can’t just do the spotlight, you have to do something smaller and more containable on social media, you have to do something that’s for the Beacon — and it can be in different formats.”
Freaney noted “we do a lot to get the word out and it’s hard, because people are in their busy lives and sometimes unless something affects them, or we are screwing up Dunedin, they are not as engaged. It’s not anybody’s fault. That’s just the way our life and world is.”
Freaney said some of the changes can be implemented immediately and others after next year’s budget is adopted this summer. The city will conduct another study in 2021 to see if concerns have changed.