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Are you satisfied?

A Times-Age official information request and months of follow-up to find the answers culminates in an analysis and report on SWDC’s satisfaction survey. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Survey shows up council’s shortfalls

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South Wairarapa District Council offices in Martinborough. PHOTO/FILE

The South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] end-of-year report card from residents is in, with many results in the ‘room for improvement’ category.

While most rated services such as libraries, pools and playgrounds highly, council decision-making and financial management ability scored at the lower end of the spectrum.

During June and July this year, more than 750 people participated in an annual residents’ perception survey of the council’s service levels, a response rate of just 25 per cent.

“This was significantly more than required for the purposes of the research and indicated a high level of engagement from our community,” a SWDC spokesperson said.

The survey was done by Key Research and included a combination of online and hard copy to ensure a cross-section of the community could respond. The objective was to provide a robust measure of satisfaction with SWDC performance on service delivery.

The highest satisfaction rate was with libraries at 90 per cent, followed by parks, reserves and open spaces at 84 per cent, and playgrounds and cemeteries at 82 per cent. Reliability of wastewater also scored well at 74 per cent, as did cleanliness of streets at 67 per cent and litter control at 63 per cent.

Advocacy and leadership of the mayor and councillors were rated 40 per cent, leadership 37 per cent, rural roads 36 per cent and trust 33 per cent. Only 31 per cent were satisfied with SWDC decisions and actions.

Those were not the worst results. SWDC achieved only 28 per cent satisfaction ratings for financial management and relationship with Mana Whenua.

About two in five [43 per cent] reported satisfaction with the council’s overall performance, but this was not even across districts. Only 29 per cent of Featherston residents were happy, compared with 48 per cent in Martinborough and 51 per cent in Greytown.

Older people were more likely to give higher scores. For those 65 or older, 57 per cent said they were satisfied, compared with only 31 per cent of those aged from 18 to 34.

Maori also reported lower satisfaction scores, with 45 per cent of non-Maori being satisfied, compared with only 24 per cent of Maori.

Key Research’s analysis showed that overall, 62 per cent of respondents were rated as ‘sceptics’ of SWDC, indicating a lack of trust and support. A further 28 per cent of responders were ‘champions’ of the council, which showed they viewed SWDC as competent. ‘Pragmatists’, who rated trust and leadership poorly made up 4 per cent of responders, and the balance were ‘admirers’ who supported the council but believed they could do better.

A SWDC spokesperson said crucial priorities for the council included improving the public’s perception of financial management and trust.

SWDC mayor Alex Beijen and chief executive Harry Wilson said the results showed there was work to do.

Wilson acknowledged not all the results were what SWDC would have liked.

“While we have done extremely well on customer service and delivering community-focused services across our libraries and amenities, we have some way to go with regard to gaining high levels of trust with our community. A 43 per cent satisfaction perception with our performance, although not the lowest across like councils, is definitely not the level we wish to be at.”

Wilson said the environment during the research phase had been a challenging period.

The period in question included part of the cancelled $200,000 SWDC and Waka Kotahi Innovating Streets initiative, the early period of a miscommunicated and unexpected 29 per cent rates rise, and the partial collapse of Hinakura Rd. The road collapse had resulted in about 70 residents being trapped in an isolated valley for several days in June.

Wilson acknowledged these issues would have been in focus and had an impact, together with residents experience of some South Wairarapa infrastructure.

“The condition of our roads and footpaths during the winter storms would have highlighted those things that still require improvement, rather than those things that have already been improved. With almost 700km of road to maintain and an environment that is prone to deterioration from weather conditions, it will always be an ongoing challenge to get on top of all the improvements required,” Wilson said.

Wilson said SWDC robust financial management for many years had been marred this year by not communicating the effect of a 2020 loan on rates charged in 2021. Subsequent communications and public meetings helped improve the public’s understanding of the issue.

Beijen acknowledged the community’s contribution for giving the feedback, signalling more effort needed to be made to communicate the good work SWDC staff did.

‘There is growth and investment across so many areas which can go unnoticed,” he said.

“For a small council with limited resources and a challenging environment, it will never be possible to please everyone all the time. However, where there is an opportunity to improve something, big or small, then we should also let the community know it has been done. Perceptions, after all, are as a result of a series of interactions, experiences and information. We have made a good start with establishing good governance, and are eager to build on that.”

SWDC would use the results to help identify areas needing greater focus and benchmark performance against similar authorities.

  • A full copy of the report is on the council website https://swdc.govt.nz/wp-content/uploads/SWDC-Perception-Survey-2021.pdf

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