The not only asks residents their opinions on key issues, it asks what they consider to be the key issues – what they see as the biggest problem facing the county, and what they like best about living in Loudoun County.
Here’s what the survey said – the good, the bad and the other, in reverse order.
These were open-ended questions that resulted in many responses that were not categorized in the preliminary report, and were lumped together under “other.” If the final report fits more of those responses into the main categories, the percentages and rankings of problems and favorite things could change.
Traffic and transportation (35.5%) topped the list of the biggest problems, as they have since 2007.
Between 1995 and 2005, growth and development (21.8% in 2012) were seen as the biggest problems. But as the county has grown and developed at a breakneck pace, it appears that growth itself is accepted more as a fact of life, and that the byproducts of growth – traffic and inadequate transportation systems – are now the most obvious problems.
Since many of the responses fell under “other,” it is premature to look closely at percentages and rankings for each category of responses.
But there are a few notable trends. Taxes are increasingly seen as a problem, rising from 5.5% of total responses in 2002 to 11.5% in 2012. One might argue that 11.5% is small compared with some of the other responses, but the trend is clear.
Schools are also increasingly identified as a problem. In 2005, just 3.8% of respondents said that schools were the biggest problem. By 2012, that percentage had grown to 9.7%, and could go even higher if some of the “other” responses are categorized under “schools” in the final report.
This raises another question. Are schools seen by some as a problem because of the quality of education, or because of the costs associated with building, equipping and staffing the schools?
It could be a combination of the two, but my guess is that more residents are concerned with high costs than low quality. Or there may be another issue in play here, like dissatisfaction with school boundary changes.
Just as it is important to know what people see as the biggest problems, so those problems can be tackled, it is also essential to know what residents like best, so those things can be preserved.
The survey asked what single thing residents like best about Loudoun County.
This, too, was an open-ended question. And on this question, responses categorized as “other” topped the list, at 20.4%. Again, the percentages and rankings could change in the final report.
In the preliminary report, location and proximity were the top choice of 20.2%. Presumably, these respondents like being relatively close to the city and the country, jobs, shopping and entertainment options.
Rural open space was the choice of 18.7%. Although it ranks high on the current list, the percentage of people who cite the rural countryside as their favorite feature has declined steadily since 2002, when 29.3% of respondents gave that answer.
This is not surprising, since growth and development since 2002 have converted a sizable amount of open space into residential developments, and attracted new residents who are more appreciative of the amenities associated with living in the suburbs.
It is interesting – and seems paradoxical – that 12.1% of respondents said that the schools are their favorite thing about Loudoun County. This percentage has also grown steadily over the years, from 5.9% in 2002.
So it appears that the school responses mirror one another. More people see the schools as the biggest problem, and about the same number of people see the schools as the thing they like best. This is hard to explain, but I will take a stab at it.
Since the public schools have a 91.4% favorability rating among respondents with a household member in the school system, it seems reasonable to assume that many of these respondents see the schools as a major asset.
But schools are also costly, comprising by far the largest category in the county budget. Residents who do not see a direct benefit from the school system might object to the costs associated with the schools. And, of course, there are those who are unhappy with school boundary decisions and other school-related issues.