Minneapolis report card: A+, needs improvement

Waiting for the game
In this photo taken Monday, Dec. 20, 2010, snow plows clear the roads near TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. A poll finds that 96 percent of its residents are satisfied with city services, but that snow plowing could be doing better, rating 80 percent satisfaction from residents.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

A glowing report card for Minneapolis may not be as good as it seems.

A scientific poll found 96 percent of its residents are satisfied with city services. Despite the high marks, Minneapolis could be doing better.

The city commissioned the poll from the National Research Center in Boulder, Colo. The center tracks resident satisfaction in cities as big as New York and as small as Westlake, Texas, population 992.

Report on Minneapolis resident satisfaction

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Minneapolis is not the only city filled with satisfied residents, said Thomas Miller, National Research Center president.

"People generally are happy with their local government services. When people talk about there being a crisis in confidence in government, they're not talking about local government," Miller said. "They're talking about federal government, by and large. When you get closer and closer to somebody's home, people are feeling better and better about the service delivery."

That's why the National Research Center grades cities on a curve, department by department.

For example, 98 percent of residents are satisfied with the Minneapolis Fire Department. A third of those residents report they are very satisfied. But in other cities, even larger percentages give their fire department the top rating.

"I think overall the city has done very well in the eyes of our residents. In some areas we've done better than others."

Miller told the city council on Thursday there is a big difference between "satisfied" and "very satisfied."

"If you ask people if they recommend their physician to somebody else and they've given the physician a top rating -- a very good rating on a scale of very good, good, fair, poor -- 90 percent of those folks would recommend that physician. If you go to good, it drops off to 45 percent," Miller said.

Even though the majority of Minneapolis residents are satisfied, there is room for improvement.

Snow plowing, for instance, had an 80 percent satisfaction rating. That's an improvement from the 66 percent satisfaction rating measured by the survey two years ago but still below the national benchmark.

The survey identifies snow removal as a "key driver" of citizen satisfaction, meaning people are more willing to pay higher taxes if they think the plows are doing a good job.

Council member Robert Lilligren said that means the city should consider putting more money toward snow plowing in next year's budget. Lilligren calls the survey "both a report card and a guide going forward."

"I think overall the city has done very well in the eyes of our residents. In some areas we've done better than others," Lilligren said. "I think the survey is clear on areas we really need to focus a little more on."

The survey compared a dozen city services to national benchmarks. More than half of them fell short -- including the police, although 90 percent of residents find the department satisfactory.

Parks and schools also fell below the benchmarks. They were included in the survey even though the city council has no direct control over those services.

The city has commissioned five other similar surveys since 2001. And overall, satisfaction has gone up. But Minneapolis still has work to do if it wants its residents to be as satisfied as those in other cities.