The 13th annual Center for Community Studies survey of Jefferson County paints a positive appreciation for life in the north country despite the rather sour impressions of local government, public safety and education.
Respondents report that family incomes are improving, that housing is more available, cultural and entertainment opportunities continue to improve, and young people have more opportunity than in recent years.
And the most significant improvement to quality of life is access to health care. The investment of Samaritan Medical Center in its Watertown facilities and the resurrection of the Carthage Area Hospital certainly play a role in the fact that perceptions that access and quality of health care have improved annually since 2009.
Other significant indicators of a better community are:
■ Recognition that care for the elderly improved. The $60 million investment in Samaritan Summit Village and the $13 million assisted-living center in Carthage have made a large difference in care for the elderly. Jefferson County residents certainly recognize those investments with 32 percent the most ever reporting better care for the elderly.
■ Adult residents view quality of life as positive, with a vast majority finding that quality continues to improve.
■ Residents are pleased with more shopping alternatives.
■ Access to higher education has positive ratings.
■ All of JCCs college opportunities were highly rated ranging from general overall quality to positives about specifics such as training for workforce opportunities.
Downtown Watertown is perceived as improving, probably in large part because of optimism over the Mercy Hospital and Lincoln Building projects.
■ Recreational opportunities continue to please respondents.
On the other hand, despite much enthusiasm for life in Jefferson County, more than half the respondents fear the lack of good jobs. That concern runs through all age groups and in every education and income category except retirement-age residents. But at the same time, there is recognition that there may be some improvement in the overall county economy and a recognition that property taxes arent as much of a worry as in the past. That may be driven by the advent of the property tax cap and aggressive efforts by local tax jurisdictions to hold down tax increases. It indicates that school boards and the county are paying attention to the issue and ratepayers ability to pay. But the consequence of these decisions is reflected in the fact the respondents feel that school systems are markedly declining.
The study additionally asked respondents to describe their political beliefs and found a migration from the extreme left and right flanks of politics to the middle, where there was a significant uptick to over half of the sample group. Any step away from the political fringe is good news. The county had enough exposure to the extremism during the special election for the congressional seat vacated by John M. McHugh in 2009. It is good news that more people view themselves as moderate. Maybe the tendency here is also underway in other jurisdictions and that the trend will influence Albany and Washington politicians to work together to face the issues bedeviling the state and nation.
The surveys authors provided a more detailed look at the relationship of political views to the perception of local government, finding that a majority of respondents who describe themselves as middle of the road believe local government is in worse shape. Those who describe themselves on the right and left appear more satisfied with the performance of local government. The results imply that local governments have begun to pay too much attention to small right-wing and left-wing contingents of voters while ignoring the majority of moderate thinkers.
Jefferson Community College makes a significant contribution by providing an independently derived and accurate reflection of attitudes across the county. The Center for Community Studies is a valuable asset to the county, its legislators, those aspiring to office and community leaders who strive to move forward, provide affordable housing, increase jobs, improve education, and restore faith in local government and police agencies.