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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Citizen Survey: Madison Fire Department Great, Infrastructure Stinks, Groceries Needed

The Madison City Commission reviewed its Citizen Survey last night (2010.06.07 agenda packet, pp. 35–45, PDF format). The city got a 68% repsonse rate, sending out 314 surveys and getting back 214. Let's see what 3% of the city population thinks of our fair city:

Most of the quantitative responses fall into predictable bell curves, with majorities saying things in Madison are "Good," handfuls marking "Fair" or "Excellent," and a small but dedicated core marking "Poor." I crunch the numbers (granting 2 points for Excellent, 1 for Good, -1 for Fair, -2 for Poor) and find some noteworthy exceptions to that distribution:
  1. The highest ranked aspect of our city is our fire department, followed by the citywide cleanup.
  2. The Community Center (located, ironically, at the edge of town) also gets more Excellents than Goods. But 1 in 5 respondents said "Don't Know," the third-highest DK, behind the airport and the city website.
  3. Scoring the strongest negatives: sidewalk maintenance, street repair, "the job Madison government does at listening to citizens," land use and planning, animal control, and "Madison as a place to work."
Interestingly, "Madison as a place to raise children" and "Madison as a place to live" get the third- and fourth-highest scores. Ask folks a general question, and they give town high marks. Ask Madisonians about specifics, and those scores mostly go down.

The survey includes numerous open comments. One 90-year-old says "No complaints... am thankful for a place to live." We're not all such grateful minimalists:
  1. The need for a grocery store and more retail figures in more than one comment. One citizen notes Madison once had five grocery stores.
  2. One commenter annotates the survey thus:
    • Madison as a place to work: "where?"
    • Street repair: "where? Piss poor."
    • Snow removal: "piss poor."
    • The overall direction that city government is taking: "which?"
    • The job Madison government does at listening to citizens: "When?"
  3. A couple people note that North 9th Street needs work... and they're right!
  4. A couple more note the need to revitalize Main Street.
  5. One commenter grumbles about our "young" cops giving folks tickets for turning into the outside lane. Those tickets must be a huge revenue generator in Madison, since (a) 9 out of 10 drivers I see in Madison do it, and (b) Madison's newly-narrowed highway lanes make a proper tight lane entry impossible on anything larger than my bike.
Check out the survey for yourself, see what you think!


  1. If these are the problems people are finding with Madison, then I'd say everything is just fine.

    Madison has a very good quality of life, and this survey just makes that point.

  2. The responses pretty much mirror the comments on Cory's blog. It's a nice livable town, but more jobs needed and competitive grocery.

    People really got hung up about junk cars, long grass, and the man on the corner (everything he owns).

  3. Competitive groceries? I must be out of the loop on groceries because I picked up two baggies of red grapes at Sunshine...$19.55, over half of my order. The receipt showed almost five pounds of grapes at $3.99 a pound. My daughter dropped one on the floor and I said, "pick it up and eat it, that's fifty-cents". Maybe grapes are priced at $3.99 a pound all over?

  4. Mark, the quality of life here is certainly better than some places. I don't like my pay... but I'd have an even harder time making on this pay in a lot of big cities. (Of course, it would also be easier to get more pay... complicated!)

    John, dare we suggest that my comment section is as valid an assessment of the community consciousness as the city's taxpayer-funded survey? ;-)

    I will say this: who has Dick Wiedenman (come on, people, just say his name) ever hurt? Whose tax dollars has he wasted? I defy anyone to quantify the harm Dick Wiedenman does to this community, and to tell me how that harm at all compares to the harm of an ineffective and secretive LAIC. Dick Wiedenman is not the good old boys' club that keeps our wages low. Dick Wiedenman isn't standing in the way of Main Street revitalization. Dick Wiedenman is a convenient distraction for the powers that be who want us thinking of nothing but image and don't want us looking at the men behind the curtain.

  5. HA! The old boys' club doesn't want everyone's wages to be low. If that is the case then the products that they sell cannot be bought by the common person which hurts them. Do not confuse economic decisions with malice.

    Hrm, with regards to Wiedenman, tax increment financing. That was an old boys' club move. But he had a good story to tell, so I guess he earned it (as all government subsidized projects go).

    Madison would be a much more competitive place to move to if it had a Super Walmart. This mom and pop 4x mark up crap is killing the it.

    A neat survey to be conducted would be to solicit how many people go to sioux falls or the surrounding communities to shop and ask why and then to break it down by demographics. My money is on that a very large percentage of the middle class goes to sioux falls for groceries because it saves them so much money even with the drive time. When I'm back, it's not unusual that we take a quick trip to Sioux Falls to stock up and I ALWAYS see at least a few others from Madison doing the same thing every trip.

  6. When Wenks was the major non-skilled employer we knew why they wanted low wages (their products went elsewhere). I thought the same as Tony, why wouldn't places like Galloways (clothing store) want people to have some disposable income? Cause they didn't want growth to attract competitors and were happy with status quo. I suspect it's still the same that our larger employers want a low wage scale (especially when their products go elsewhere) and places like Stan's and other small business owners are fearful of competition. They ruined it for themselves however because everyone jumps in their car and goes to Sioux Falls without a thought. It's a waste of two hours.

    He (I assume Schaffer) had a good story to tell so he earned it? Tony, if you know a developer in town ask how they feel about the TIF. It stinks all around and so far has benefited no one, not even Schaffer. A few people questioned and complained (Goeman, Hess & Heildelberger), but where were the established contractors and everyone in real estate that knew it was complete BS? Cause it's better not to rock the boat. Stay clear of political trouble, right? And that just goes on and on and on which is why the economics of Madison stays the same.

  7. John-

    With regards to my "story" comment, that is how all government subsidized projects work. You explain why what you want to do is valuable, how it will benefit the area, and why it makes economic sense.

    You're selling a vision and that is exactly what happened with the TIF, so that is why I say he earned it.

    Let me be clear, I don't think that the TIF was a bad thing. I consider it fairly proactive for Madison. It's unfortunate that it hasn't worked out well, but that was a known risk and the city agreed that the benefits outweighed them. Risks like the TIF are going to be necessary for Madison to grow.

  8. Tony,

    It was proactive only in the sense someone saw a chance to take land without value and get tax dollars to make improvements. If the project had been necessary and benefited the buyer we would call it progressive, but this was something entirely different.

    Madison's leadership approach has not really changed. Preserve and embellish the establishment. Although I have hated hearing my older friends say Madison will never change, they are probably right. Their views have been shaped over a lifetime.


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