Study: Residents unhappy with services, leaders

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 29, 2004

A recent folknography study gave Ironton residents a voice but left some researchers wondering if anybody is listening.

Developed by Ohio University Southern professors Dr. Dave Lucas and Dr. Charles Jarrett, folknography is a qualitative research method

that records attitudes and perceptions of communities and groups. Sixteen Ohio University students conducted a week-long research project that collected data from residents.

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The overall consensus was that Irontonians feel safe living in the city but are not happy with the services or their elected leaders, specifically city council.

When preliminary data was presented to council recently, the members thanked the students for their work but several researchers were left feeling as if they didn't put much stock in the results.

"I think some of the council members dismissed it. That is just my personal feelings," said researcher and Ironton resident George McCalvin. "I don't think they took it to heart or gave it any credit."

Complete results will be presented at a public forum at 6 p.m. Thursday at OUS in the rotunda.

Dr. Lucas is proud of the work the students put in and the way the students really embraced the project. With a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent, he called the study the most successful to date and an accurate representation of residents' views.

"I think it was the most pertinent study we have ever done. The Richwood, W.Va., project was about math. There was no immediate impact," Lucas said. "With this it became very urgent. It was a needed study with immediate applications."

The students conducted a total 249 surveys, 107 interviews and a dozen focus groups throughout the city.

Nearly 60 percent of the respondents were female. Overall,

40 percent of people polled were adults, 35 percent youth and 25 percent senior citizens.

When asked if they were satisfied with the quality of living, 44 percent agreed or strongly agreed. On the other hand, 56 percent disagreed or disagreed strongly.

A total of 73 percent of people polled said they were not satisfied with services.

When asked to choose their preferred source of additional revenue, 30 percent chose a municipal fee, 22 percent chose a parking sticker, 15 percent were willing to pay a sanitation increase. Only 9 percent supported payroll tax increases, 9 percent supported revoking the reciprocity, 8 percent wanted the city to look at other ideas and 7 percent said they would be willing to pay more sales tax.

While the numbers may be skewed because of recent discussion on the city's financial troubles, 69 percent of the people said they were not satisfied with the elected officials.

In what Lucas said was a surprise to him, 77 percent of the people said they feel safe living in Ironton.

When it came to ranking their most important city services, 27 percent of the people marked police, 27 percent chose water, 24 percent chose fire, 13 percent picked streets and only 9 percent marked sanitation.

Though it may not come as a surprise to anyone, 83 percent of the people supported renovation or revitalization of downtown and and 91 percent said they would support a hospital in Ironton.

Mayor John Elam had not seen the final numbers but said he remains excited about what the study could mean.

"I think it is an independently conducted, statistically significant survey," Elam said. "As much as we want to believe or disbelieve what is written, this is the way it is. Let's learn from it."

Lucas agreed that the study could help guide the leaders as they continue to look at ways to address the city's financial problems.

"The people are willing to do something for the city," he said. "They know and understand, they may not like it, that they have to pay some type of fee to get the city back on track."