The latest survey on Santa Fe’s livability and quality of life turned up mixed results for the city.
A majority of residents rated their quality of life positively, giving Santa Fe’s overall image and their neighborhoods high marks. They also called New Mexico’s capital city a good place to retire. About seven in 10 survey participants said they would recommend living in Santa Fe to others.
“How residents rate their overall quality of life is an indicator of the overall health of a community. In the case of Santa Fe, 78 percent rated the city as an excellent or good place to live,” according to Colorado-based National Research Center Inc., which conducted the study.
But residents were less enthusiastic about the overall economic health of the city, cost of living and employment opportunities. They were also less likely to call Santa Fe a good place to raise a child.
“Only about one-third of residents gave this an excellent or good rating,” Jade Arocha, a survey consultant with National Research Center, recently told Mayor Javier Gonzales and city councilors.
The survey states that “only about four in 10 residents gave excellent or good ratings to overall opportunities for education and enrichment and less than two in 10 favorably rated K-12 education and the availability of affordable quality child care/preschool, and these were lower than [ratings] observed in other communities across the nation.”
The mayor, who delivered the commencement address Saturday at New Mexico Highlands University, where he served as a regent from 2004 to 2008, said after the speech that the city wants citizen input to help guide decision-making.
“The community livability survey was one of many efforts the city is undertaking to get feedback from citizens so that our budget can be prioritized to meet their needs,” he said.
“Not surprising, a key measurement for our city is affordability, jobs and education. All three have been a priority of mine for the last three years [of my first term in office], and I’ll continue to push for policy that delivers more affordable housing, high-wage jobs and early childhood education,” Gonzales said.
The survey, which was sent to 3,000 randomly selected households in Santa Fe and offered online for a total response rate of 23 percent, was conducted before Santa Fe voters rejected a proposal May 2 to tax sugary beverages to fund preschool programs in the city. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Renée Martínez, deputy city manager, said many factors shape perceptions about Santa Fe being a good place to raise a child.
“The availability and quality of youth and recreation activities and programs likely influence this rating, as well as the quality of our schools,” she said in an email. “The city will use the results in their work with partners, including the school district and colleges, to identify ways to improve educational opportunities” for residents.
Martínez said the city is pleased that 70 percent of respondents rated the overall quality of life in Santa Fe as excellent or good.
“There is a lot of good data in the results to digest, and we have asked all departments to review and discuss these, and more importantly, to use the results to inform planning processes and ongoing activities to evaluate and improve city services,” she said.
“While there are favorable results to feel good about, there are other results that show opportunities for improvement,” she added.
The research firm mostly asked template questions, allowing it to provide benchmark comparisons of Santa Fe with more than 600 other communities. The city chose a handful of custom questions, including the importance of strategic planning areas, such as education and economic development, and residents’ sources of information.
The survey results about the overall economic health of the city, as well as the findings and recommendations in a recent economic development report, will be used as the city develops a new economic development plan, Martínez said.
“The city will have a new leader in place in the Office of Economic Development starting in June,” she said.
The survey also asked about residents’ willingness to approve taxes.
A majority of residents said they strongly or somewhat supported a gross receipts or property tax increase to fund improvements for streets, public safety, libraries and transit. Residents were more likely to support such a tax increase for youth ball fields and improvements to city-owned administrative buildings and facilities.
The survey also gauged residents’ level of support for a gasoline tax to fund street and roadway improvements.
City Councilor Joseph Maestas first pitched a gasoline tax in 2015. While a council majority decided in January 2016 not to ask voters to approve a 2-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax for street improvements, Maestas and other councilors have been kicking the idea around ever since.
“About three-quarters of residents strongly or somewhat supported a gasoline tax increase for that purpose,” Arocha said. “Only about one-third opposed it.”
In January, as the survey was being conducted, city officials told The New Mexican that the tax questions on the survey were “purely informational only.”
“In general, it’s important that we try to have a better understanding of the residents’ priorities citywide. That’s why there’s the breadth of all the questions,” Adam Johnson, the city’s finance director, said at the time. “When you get into the questions about revenue increases, it’s important to ask those questions so that we can understand if the residents were comfortable in supporting an increase in taxes and what is that going to be for.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.