Jefferson County residents continue to be satisfied with the overall quality of life in the area despite mixed economic prospects, according to an annual study by the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College presented Tuesday night to the Jefferson County Board of Legislators Planning and Development Committee.
Theres an incredible vehicle and tool here that our leaders hadnt had before today, Joel F. LaLone, the centers research coordinator, said after the meeting.
Mr. LaLone, who presented the surveys results to the board with Raymond E. Petersen, the centers director, said the information can help legislators better understand what the public is thinking and provide agencies with 14 years of continuous assessments that can help when applying for grant money.
Overall, 86 percent of residents researchers interviewed said the quality of life is getting better or staying the same.
To complete the study, researchers conducted 400 phone interviews April 1 and 2. The data were weighted for gender, age, education and income.
Respondents said the community is getting better shopping opportunities, access to higher education and availability of housing, but is getting worse in terms of energy costs, the availability of good jobs, the local economys overall state and real estate taxes.
Local schools and law enforcement also received pointed criticism.
There was a marked change in the publics perception of available care for the elderly.
This year, 32 percent of respondents said availability was getting better as opposed to 26 percent in 2012 and 18 percent in 2011.
Mr. LaLone alluded to the new Samaritan Summit Village assisted-living complex on Washington Street a reference that met with murmurs of approval from legislators who worked to bring the facility to the county.
Apparently things arent going so well at the other end of the age spectrum, however, as researchers said 21 percent of respondents said the quality of kindergarten-to-12 education is getting worse, the highest percentage ever measured in the studys history.
The survey results showed 89 percent of respondents support school districts sharing services and 63 percent favor school districts considering consolidation.
The study reported 25 percent of respondents said they perceive police and crime control are getting worse, which surpassed the 21 percent who believe it is improving.
Government at all levels received a strong rebuke from survey respondents.
A total of 43 percent of residents said local government was getting worse, the highest total in study history, while respondents said government leadership was the second-largest problem facing the nation right now. The percentage of respondents rating Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos performance as poor jumped from 10 in 2012 to 25.
Mr. Petersen said the local government category did not distinguish among town, city or county entities.
The survey also revealed 50 percent of Jefferson County residents thought the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 had gone too far, 15 percent thought it had not gone far enough, 26 percent thought it was just about right and 9 percent said they were not sure.
Before the presentation, the Planning and Development Committee endorsed the lone resolution on its agenda, which would give the Jefferson County Soil & Water Conservation District $85,000 to pay off the remainder of a $175,000 debt to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
The district had its state funding frozen earlier this year when it was revealed to its board of directors that the former executive director, Brian J. Wohnsiedler, was borrowing money against state grants to make ends meet in the face of increasing fiscal demands and declining revenue.
In exchange for the money, the district has determined it will consolidate its forestry and trails contracts with the county, thus reducing the amount of money the county will provide to the district for those functions in the future.
The district recently went through an audit conducted by Crowley & Halloran CPAs, Watertown, that identified several areas where the organization could improve its bookkeeping practices but found no evidence of fraud.
Interim Executive Director Christine M. Watkins said the district, which helps farmers comply with environmental regulations, reduced its debt through equipment sales, restructuring of contracts with its customers and earned income from tree sales and other programs.
According to Mrs. Watkins, once the $85,000 is paid back to the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the district may receive state grant funding again.
The countys General Services Committee endorsed the transfer of $300,000 in 2013-14 Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program funds for a project to replace a bridge on North Harbor Road in Adams that has been closed since last summer.
Money for the project was originally included in the countys 2013 budget but later removed, according to county Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence.
In April, a group of Adams residents asked the county to make the bridge a priority because it provided easy access to Interstate 81 and was the most direct route for emergency responders to North Harbor Road.
Increased CHIPs funding from the state is allowing the project to move forward.
Im glad to get this through, Mr. Lawrence said. Its a great project. The increase in funding gave us the opportunity. Otherwise, it wouldnt take place this year.
The Board of Legislators still has to give its final approval to the project, and the county is waiting for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Conservation, but Mr. Lawrence said work on the project should begin by Sept. 1. Legislators may vote on it at their next meeting July 2.
Full results and methodology for the Center for Community Studies Survey will be displayed today at www.sunyjefferson.edu/community-business/center-community-studies.