Customer satisfaction surveys are tricky. They’re especially tricky when a city of 1.3 million people asks its residents how satisfied they are with how their tax dollars are being spent, as Dallas does every two years. The 2023 edition was shown to the City Council on Wednesday, just as city staffers map out a multi-billion dollar bond program next year.
The city will have to navigate some of what appears to be contradictory: 62 percent of the 1,475 respondents say the city is an “excellent” or “good” place to live, but only 28 percent say they are “pleased with the overall direction that the city of Dallas is taking.” (About 53 percent responded in the affirmative in 2014.)
Overall, residents reported that they thought city services were either “excellent” or “good” for about two-thirds of the city’s categories. But only 29 percent agreed that they “receive good value for the city of Dallas taxes I pay.” (About 44 percent responded in the affirmative in 2014.)
Dallas fares well when compared to the other major cities that also asked the ETC Institute to conduct a survey. (The ETC keeps its findings in a handy database for everyone it does business with.)
Each of the 14 Council districts clocked 100 or more respondents. (Most districts averaged about 7 percent of the total response, while White Rock Lake and East Dallas in District 9, represented by Paula Blackmon, was the outlier with 8.3 percent.)
Overall, 66 percent of Dallasites rated their neighborhood as an excellent or good place to live, and 62 percent said Dallas was an excellent or good place to live. (Only 7 percent reported it as “poor.”)
Some of the key takeaways:
- About three-quarters of the respondents said that Dallas is an excellent or good place to do business, and a good or excellent place to work, but that number jumps up when you include the 20 percent that rated the city as “fair.” About half said the economic development efforts in the city were good or excellent, but only 35 percent felt it was a good place to retire.
- When it comes to overall quality of life, a little more than half felt the city was doing a good or excellent job, and only 40 percent felt that Dallas was doing good or excellent work in terms of equity.
- When you account for excellent, good, and fair responses, the quality of public schools rated 61 percent.
- In terms of city services, people really, really love Love Field. Almost 100 percent of those surveyed felt the airport was excellent or good.
- About 90 percent rated the city’s fire department favorably. That’s also true when it comes to the city’s public library services and arts and cultural programs. In fact, all of those services had better ratings than those in other large U.S. cities ETC compared the city to, by as much as five to 10 percent.
- People are generally pleased with their sewer services, parks, drinking water, and trash pickup. They are slightly less pleased with their storm drainage, customer service from city employees, 311 request process, and animal services. Seventy percent felt neighborhood code enforcement was excellent, fair, or poor.
- Only 38 percent of those surveyed rated the service from the Dallas Police Department as excellent or good. Another 30 percent said it was fair. That was also lower than other major U.S. cities, and lower than other survey years—in 2018, 62 percent rated the police department as excellent or good, and in 2020 almost half rated it so. This month, the Dallas police rolled out a plan that will task residents with reporting some incidents—like car wrecks, vandalism, identity theft, and debit or credit card abuse—through an online portal. The city says that could free up the equivalent of 65 patrol officers to respond to more urgent incidents.
- Respondents were also not huge fans of the city’s land use, planning, and zoning, or how Dallas maintains its infrastructure.
- Almost 60 percent of those surveyed placed maintaining city infrastructure as a top priority. Half said police services should be a priority, and 31 percent said social services should.
- When asked about how to prioritize things that impact communities, 53 percent said access to affordable, quality housing was a top priority, with 33 percent and 27 percent saying the city should also focus on access to living wage jobs and quality education, respectively.
- In nearly every council district, residents prioritized infrastructure as their top priority. (Districts 5 and 10 prioritized police services, which was number two for the other districts.)
But when you look at the trends for key survey questions, things aren’t quite as rosy. Respondents were asked their level of agreement with several statements around City Hall’s performance, and each of the six had declined in the past two years. Those include the aforementioned questions regarding taxes and the direction of the city.
Only 29 percent felt that the city government “listens to a diverse range of people,” compared to 35 percent in 2020. When it comes to feeling that they get a “good value for the city of Dallas taxes” they pay, only 24 percent felt so this year, compared to 31 percent in 2020 and 45 percent in 2016.
Looking at those results, a couple things jump out. First, look at the satisfaction scores for Dallas police, where its ability to reduce the city’s violent crime over the past year has been lauded by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson as recently as Tuesday’s inaugural address.
Dallasites may feel that the quality of life issues that come with crime reduction are also important, like getting a response when someone breaks the lock on your back fence and steals your lawn equipment. The plan to direct those complaints to an online portal could feel like a reduction in services to some residents. Meantime, the same decision could offer the police more flexibility behind the scenes in how it deploys its limited resources.
The city faces difficult choices, particularly around perception.
Secondly, it’s not clear which infrastructure elements respondents were reacting to. But it’s common to hear about the condition of city streets. In Wednesday’s City Council briefing, the city’s Office of Bond and Construction Management provided an update on proposed allocations for the potential 2024 bond election. Streets could see about $400 million in bond funding, while housing infrastructure could see around $80 million. Flood protection, storm drainage, and erosion control could get another $50 million piece of the $1 billion pie. “Access to affordable, quality housing” was by far the highest ranked priority of quality of life investments. (Living-wage jobs and quality education trailed behind, two things the city must work alongside partners to affect.)
This survey isn’t the only peek into what residents want to see from their city. The city’s Office of Bond and Construction Management as well as the Community Bond Task Force have held town hall meetings, virtual meetings, and attended community-requested meetings. The city is also collecting public opinion in an ongoing survey.
Throughout the summer and fall, the Council will continue to be briefed on the proposed bond package as city staff works on its list of recommended projects. The Council could hold a public hearing in December or January, and must decide if it will call a May bond election by Jan. 24, 2024. It will be its first bond program since 2017.