DADE CITY — The slice of city residents who responded to a recent survey gave high marks to the police department but were less enthused about top city officials.
About 82 percent of the respondents gave a thumbs-up to the Dade City Police Department, according to the written survey conducted and analyzed by the School of Public Policy at the University of South Florida. This year's survey was sent to 1,000 homes. About 16.5 percent responded, which the USF report said "was good for a public survey."
Those who participated voiced some displeasure with City Hall: About 45 percent were satisfied with the city manager, a 14-point drop from last year's survey, while the City Commission's approval rating fell 13 points to 46 percent.
City Manager Billy Poe acknowledged the controversy and poor communication over improvements to the wastewater treatment plant in Mickens-Harper hurt the city's standing with residents. He also noted the city saw contentious elections this past spring for the City Commission.
"We're not doing everything perfectly," he said. But he encouraged residents to attend city meetings and share their thoughts.
Camille Hernandez, who became mayor in April after six years on the commission, expects to turn things around.
"I'm not surprised by the results," Hernandez said. "In the past we've had an inexperienced executive team. Several well-documented issues, including the water tank and finances, have been problematic. With a new commission seated and with my leadership, we're ready to move forward and the public will see things differently."
Not all the news was bad: City residents voiced strong support for a 2-mile extension of the Hardy Trail, which could connect to the county's future sidewalks to Lacoochee, where the Withlacoochee Trail completes a pathway of 50 miles between Dade City and Dunnellon.
"We want hikers to use Dade City for meals, coffee, that type of thing," Poe said.
"A new connection could be very beneficial to our cause," he added, noting last week the commission approved expenses to proceed with a construction survey.
Shopping and dining remain the most common reasons people go downtown. Concerts and work were the least common reasons. About half of the respondents said the city's biggest challenges are providing more economic opportunities and improving downtown parking. A third of the respondents cited the need for more recreational facilities and other infrastructure improvements.
At the end of the survey, residents wrote in an array of suggestions: Add more bike paths. Create a nightlife. Fix the flooding on Howard Avenue. Establish online bill paying for city utility customers. And please, one resident pleaded, bring an Olive Garden or a Chick-fil-A to Dade City.
"I am tired of going to (Zephyrhills) to eat," that person wrote.
Whatever the issue, Poe encouraged residents to participate in the solution by attending City Commission meetings.
"We can make a difference if they do," he said. "Otherwise, we presume people are satisfied when they don't show up or communicate."