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Rock Hill retreat

Rock Hill city officials want to increase communication with residents, which they hope will help answer concerns about street repairs, electricity outages and general questions.

In the final day of the city council annual retreat Wednesday, council members continued to discuss results from the newest survey conducted through the National Research Center.

The 25-plus question survey is completed every three years, asking residents to rate their satisfaction on city services, such as police and fire, drinking water, activities for young people and seniors, and street repair. They can rate their satisfaction on the quality of life in the city as a place to live, work, retire and raise children and offer opinions on educational and employment opportunities.

These results help city officials update goals within the strategic plan's six initiatives: public safety, short- and long-term economic development, Old Town revitalization, quality public services, sustainable growth and quality of life.

Tom Miller, head of the National Research Center, led council members and Mayor Doug Echols through discussions on community design, economic and environmental sustainability and community quality.

The community design involves areas such as housing, transportation, streets and traffic lights.

More people say they are pleased with the ease of car, bicycle and walking travel in Rock Hill, with increases in each one.

However, street repair had a low score, with a 24-percent positive rating, down from 29 percent in 2008.

“It’s generally a low-rated service,” Miller assured them.

But as they talked about problems within street repair, several council members said residents in their wards have asked them about fixing a road or what is going on with repairs in a certain area. Councilwoman Susie Hinton said sometimes they can’t seem to convey to everyone which roads are state-maintained and which are the city’s responsibility.

Echols and councilman John Black suggested some way to contact people affected to let them know what’s going on. The contact wouldn’t be just for a street repair, but for many kinds of projects.

“If people have an answer ahead of time they’re not as confused after the fact,” Echols said.

Black said the city does a great job getting information out with the website and Twitter, but there could be more.

“Everything we’re doing, we can ask –who’s our audience? What’s it going to affect? How do we communicate it to them?”

Solutions could be brochures or door hangers.

In the area of economic sustainability, it was a time for more contrasts, as 30 percent of people said population growth in the area is “too fast.” At the same time, there was an increase of people who see retail and job growth as “too slow.”

The contrast was puzzling to council members and the mayor.

Councilman Jim Reno pointed out that “you can’t have one without the other,” meaning there can’t be retail and job growth without a population growth.

“What is it people want to buy that they can’t get in Rock Hill?” Echols asked.

Hinton said it could be that people who are moving to the area are used to different retail opportunities where they used to live.

Echols then noted the increase in the “overall quality of business and service establishments,” from 54 percent in 2008 to 55 percent in 2011. He said they should keep re-examining opportunities and remove the obstacles businesses and services face.

The idea of communication returned throughout the day, with discovering just what more people want.

At the end of the day, they talked about the six strategic initiatives and agreed they should put an emphasis on communication in each one.

With such an emphasis, Hinton said it could build public trust and include more people in the community.

They also are considering modifying titles of some of the initiatives: job growth would be added to economic development, community development to Old Town revitalization and to fold civic engagement and community inclusiveness into quality of life.

When envisioning the future of Rock Hill, Black said he’d like to see downtown as more of a destination area, Hinton hoped for more jobs downtown and Echols would like more upward development.

They also discussed:

•  Environmental sustainability

Some of the largest surges on the survey could be seen in certain services the city offers. Recycling and garbage collection saw those jumps, along with people’s perceptions of the cleanliness of Rock Hill, the air quality and the overall natural environment.

•  Public safety

In 2008, during the last survey, public safety was an initiative council and staff focused on.

They had added 12 police officers, certified more fire officials as paramedics and opened a fire station near the airport, and violent crimes and property crimes saw a reduction of nearly 2 percent.

The 2011 survey reflected those efforts. Increases were seen in multiple safety categories, including safety in neighborhoods during the days, after dark, the downtown area and safety from violent and property crimes.

In the focus groups, people had comments saying they wish they saw officers more in their neighborhoods.

“It wasn’t complaints of safety, it was more the visibility,” Miller said. “What we see here is a definite uptake in people’s safety.”

•  Community quality

More than 80 percent of people surveyed see Rock Hill as “excellent” or “good” place to live.