Saturday, October 31, 2020

Community Needs Assessment Findings Are In

Eileen Connolly-Keesler, right, responds to a question as Mary Beth Geier looks on.

By Don Manley

The Collier County Community Needs and Assets Assessment results could assist Marco Island City Council in prioritizing capital projects during the budgetary planning process.

Conducted August through December of last year, the assessment contains from more than 4,000 residents to questions addressing a broad range of issues. It was funded by Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and focused on helping to identify and quantify the conditions, needs and assets of the community, and analyzing access to and the delivery of resources to residents.

The assessment’s objectives were to:

  • Identify possible unmet service needs and gaps within the county
  • Identify possible community assets and resources
  • Provide findings that allow stakeholders to develop priorities and strategies that address the findings, and utilize and mobilize existing community resources to help meet the identified needs and bridge the identified gaps

A presentation on the assessment results was delivered recently in City Hall’s Community Meeting Room by Mary Beth Geier, Florida director for the Schulze Foundation, and Eileen Connolly-Keesler, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County.

The presentation also included Marco-specific information gleaned from the responses of city residents.

“Surveys like this, especially when conducted by a quality organization such as the Schulze Family Foundation, are always informative and often helpful,” said Marco City Councilman Larry Honig, who was joined at the presentation by two colleagues, Charlette Roman and Jared Grifoni, and the city’s police chief, Al Schettino.

Honig described the information culled from Marco residents as being a bonus.

“Some of the specific responses might be helpful to us as a city as we think about budget priorities,” he said. “Survey respondents said we need to improve lighting on some of our streets, improve the roads, improve water quality and better manage growth. Except for lighting, Marco Island government has been working on these matters, so it validates how we think about spending taxpayer money and may encourage us to proceed a bit more forcefully.”

The assessment was designed and conducted by contractor QQ-Research Information to gauge opinions, countywide, on such topics as housing, environment, public transportation, healthcare, education, infrastructure and employment opportunities. Surveys were register opinions, as well as focus groups led by trained volunteers, which gathered information in specific communities, such as Marco and Immokalee, with Haitian Creole and Spanish speakers, as well from specific groups, such as firefighters, police and teachers.

“What we wanted to know was what does Collier County look like at a whole?” said Connolly-Keesler. “We also wanted to know what employment and economic opportunity looked like in Collier County, housing, what people felt about transportation and infrastructure, environment, healthcare and so on. Those were the domains we were focusing on.”

The assessment revealed that:

  • Collier County’s high cost of living and relatively low wages leave 34 percent of families unable to meet basic needs.
  • There’s a need for more education and awareness among residents where water quality, conservation and environmental threats, and even sea level rise are concerned.
  • Collier residents are concerned about the availability of primary care doctors and dentists, especially during the tourist season, as well as a lack of mental health care and addiction treatment.
  • 40 percent of residents are “housing-cost burdened” spending more than 30 percent of their income and in some cases more than 50 percent, on housing.
  • 76 percent of county residents are somewhat to very likely to support the new sales tax proposal on the November election ballot that’s intended to ease the road construction back log.

On Marco, 65 percent of the respondents said they are somewhat to very likely to support the measure.

“I was surprised that two-thirds of the Marco Island responders indicated they would likely vote ‘yes’ on the 1 percent incremental tax,” said Honig. “This may portend a ‘yes’ vote on the home-rule EMS matter.

Grifoni was also taken aback by that result.

“While the Marco Island numbers in support were lower than Collier County, it still was higher than anticipated,” he said. “I would expect those numbers to change as we approach the general election in November and residents of Marco Island and Collier County start paying closer attention to the details of the proposal.”

The Marco-specific data aligned closely, in some cases, with responses received elsewhere in the county, but there was a distinct difference where some issues were concerned.

For example:

  • 44 percent of residents of the both county and Marco are satisfied with growth management.
  • 98 percent of Marco residents believed their community is well maintained, as opposed to 82 percent of county residents, and 93 percent of Marco-ites believe they have access to clean outdoor facilities, while 81 percent of county residents share that belief.
  • 87 percent of Marco Islanders feel safe driving in the city, while just 73 percent of off-island residents feel safe driving in the county.

The assessment also includes information that relates only to the island, such as:

  • 37 percent agree adequate support services are available residents with disabilities.
  • 38 percent believe that driving under the influence is a problem in the community.
  • 95 percent believe residents feel safe at night
  • 39 percent believe affordable basic medical services are available for all the community’s children.
  • 48 percent were satisfied with post-Hurricane Irma relief efforts and 51 percent felt those efforts were effective.

“I was surprised that only 48 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with response to Hurricane Irma,” said Honig. “This may indicate that the round of backslapping was not sufficiently introspective.”

Roman said that the data on hurricane response will be very helpful to the city’s emergency planners and that overall, the information will be important to the community as the future unfolds.

“Until now, there has been no community assessment process; and the information about our community has been largely anecdotal,” she said. “Now, for the first time in our history, community leaders have statistically valid results that capture a snapshot of the community, identify issues, and will help establish a roadmap to plan programs and improvements.”

She was pleasantly surprised by the responses received from Marco residents identified better paying jobs and environmental preservation as their choices for top priorities for elected officials over the next two years.

“The island focus group participants also voiced concerns that the island was not being protected, highlighting disappearing wildlife, and lack of public understanding about the fragile ecosystem,” added Roman.

Both she and Grifoni expressed gratitude for the assessment and the information it contains about the island.

“Having access to this survey data, along with other local surveys like those done by the Marco Island Civic Association, are helpful by giving a snapshot in time of our residents’ opinions on certain items,” said Grifoni.

To view the assessment’s executive summary, visit schulzefamilyfoundation.org/_asset/y2r4yx/RMSFF-Executive-Summary.pdf. To view the report, visit cfcollier.org/collier-county-community-needs-assets-assessment/

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