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Westminster residents satisfied with quality of life, focused on safety, seeking public transportation

The Westminster City Hall at Emerald Hill is pictured on Monday, March 30, 2015.
The Westminster City Hall at Emerald Hill is pictured on Monday, March 30, 2015. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Westminster residents think their city is a good place to live and does a nice job with snow removal. They would like to have more access to public transportation, however. And while they want to see improvements to the old Wakefield Valley golf course, they don’t want a tax hike to fund it.

The city conducted a quality of life survey and found the area on-benchmark with other municipalities across the nation. Residents over age 55, people who live in detached housing and homeowners tended to feel more favorably than other survey respondents.

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The city discussed the survey results at the Mayor and Common Council meeting Monday night, Sept. 23. The presentation will be included with the minutes from the meeting on the city’s website, westminstermd.gov.

The key findings from the survey that city staff highlighted were: “Westminster residents enjoy a high quality of life and strong sense of community. Mobility presents an area of opportunity, with public transportation as a focus. Residents generally feel safe but place a high importance on safety as a future focus of the City.”

The survey was first mailed to 1,600 randomly selected households in Westminster and they could reply by mail or online. Of those, 386 completed the survey, making about a 25% response rate. Those who self-selected to take the survey — 135 total — were not included in the numbers presented Monday.

The National Research Center was contracted to send out the survey and they used the National Community Survey model. Their database was used to compare results against those from more than 600 communities.

Results were weighted to reflect the overall community demographics.

Two-thirds of residents surveyed said their quality of life was excellent or good, which is similar to the national benchmark, City Administrator Barbara Matthews said during the presentation.

The survey broke down three sections to survey “Community Characteristics,” “Governance” and “Participation.”

To asses community characteristics, participants rated more than 40 features of the city. Of those, almost all were similar to the national benchmark. Three were ranked lower than the national benchmark: overall feeling of safety, ease of travel by public transportation and openness and acceptance toward people of diverse backgrounds.

Three out of four respondents rated the city city as an excellent or good place to live with 90% responding that they feel safe in their neighborhood during the day and 80% saying they feel safe downtown during the day.

Matthews said the city reached out to the National Research Center about those results and was told that type of response can often come from a need for more communication about crime prevention efforts.

In the governance category, residents rated services and amenities in the city. Of the more than 30 questions, most were again rated near the national benchmark. Snow removal in the city was rated higher than in other communities nationally. Crime prevention, bus or transit services and drinking water were rated lower.

The overall quality of city services was rated as excellent or good by 75% of residents and 70% gave high marks to the overall quality of customer service provided by city employees. Both ratings were close to the national benchmark.

The participation category, Matthews said, is a way that a city can see how it is tapping into its most valuable resource — its residents.

Of more than 30 activities and behaviors, Westminster residents rated at or near the national benchmark for all but five.

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Westminster residents are less likely than most to use public transportation rather than driving, less likely to carpool, less likely to use community recreation centers, less likely to read or watch local news and more likely to report housing cost stress.

Sixty percent felt favorably about the sense of community in Westminster and 70% would recommend living in the city and plan to remain there. Matthews reported that both of these ratings are similar to the national benchmark.

To customize the survey, Westminster also asked a few questions specific the city.

In regards to the city-owned Wakefield Valley property, the majority of respondents were in favor of making enhancements including reconfiguration/improvement of the trail system, renovation of buildings as community spaces and or the addition of shelters and pavilions. The survey found that the level of support for these enhancements dropped significantly if a tax increase would be required in order to complete them.

The survey found that citizens’ most widely-used sources to get information about the city of Westminster were the city’s website and word of mouth. The least-used were the Nextdoor app and homeowner’s association communications.

No geographic area of the city had consistently higher or lower ratings.

After reviewing the results, the mayor and members of the council agreed that they should seek to put the survey out again in two or three years so they can begin comparing against their own past results as well as national benchmarks.

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