A scorecard released by the San Antonio North Chamber rates the City Council on key votes in the business community.
A scorecard released by the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce rates City Council members' votes on key issues affecting the business community. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

With an overall satisfaction rate of 64 percent, San Antonians assessed their general contentment with City services at 19 percent above the national average, according to a recent biennial community survey.

Kansas-based ETC Institute asked a random selection of 1,116 residents in all 10 Council districts via mail, phone, and email to rate dozens of departments and services such as solid waste, animal care, transportation, public safety, and others. Nearly 62 percent of those surveyed identified as Hispanic or Latino. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 64 percent of San Antonio’s population is Hispanic.

Click here to download a summary presentation of the survey that was presented to City Council on Wednesday.

Among the main findings of the report, according to ETC Institute CEO Chris Tatham, are that residents have a “positive perception” of San Antonio, which is “ranked the highest in overall delivery of services among large Texas cities,” and feel the city is moving in the right direction.

That is “not an accident,” Tatham said, but rather a result of policymakers adjusting priorities to meet those of residents.

There is, however, plenty of room for improvement, Tatham said. Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI), which is responsible for street repair and drainage infrastructure, received the lowest rating of major city services, with 42 percent of respondents indicating they are unsatisfied, 37 percent satisfied, and 21 percent neutral. Tatham said the City should work to improve TCI, Neighborhood and Housing Services, Code Enforcement, and Planning departments as they are areas of high importance and low satisfaction, according to the data.

But the good news, he said, is San Antonio has “no major deficiencies.”

San Antonio ranked No. 1 out of the five largest Texas cities – which include Houston, Fort Worth, Austin, Dallas, where ETC also conducts surveys – in overall satisfaction; second for its library, solid waste, 311, police, animal care services, and code compliance departments; and third for fire, parks, and TCI departments.

Satisfaction with one of the 16 major services decreased significantly, according to the survey: respondents’ perception of the City’s sustainability efforts to help preserve the environment declined by 10 percent compared with the 2016 survey.

That could be because more people are becoming more aware of climate change, Tatham said, but aren’t aware of City initiatives surrounding the issue.

“Following the communication of the survey results to employees and the community, City departments will analyze the results to develop plans for needed improvements and to maintain several highly satisfied service areas provided across the city,” Jeff Coyle, government and public affairs director, wrote in a memo to the city manager and Council.

The survey questions were intentionally broad, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said, to allow for comparison between San Antonio’s results and those of other cities that asked the same questions.

“It’s a balance between trying to compare to other cities and demonstrate to Council whether or not we’re improving,” she said.

However, it’s possible to update the survey or include city-specific questions, she added. “Things change … we didn’t have [electric] scooters 10 years ago.”

The results have a 95 percent level of confidence and a margin of error of 3 percentage points, Tatham said, adding that ETC has performed surveys for more than 850 cities in 49 states.

Sculley, who oversees all City departments, was the subject of a far more formal survey, some have said, when voters in November approved compensation and term limits for future city managers. Another proposition, aimed at making it easier to overturn City Council decisions with a public vote, was soundly rejected. Those initiatives pertained to policy and the City charter, whereas the survey polled respondents on the effectiveness of City services. It is unknown whether surveyed respondents voted in the Nov. 6 election.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and most Council members said they were pleased with the results, which generally align with much of what they hear from constituents.

The survey says San Antonio is headed in the right direction but still has work to do, Nirenberg said. “We won’t be resting on our laurels.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org