Brainerd City Council: Survey results show room for growth

The results are in following the city of Brainerd's first survey of community members asking them about the city's positive and negative attributes. City Planner Mark Ostgarden presented the results of the first survey to the Brainerd City Counci...

3117458+0127_BRAINERD-SURVEY.jpg Illustration

The results are in following the city of Brainerd's first survey of community members asking them about the city's positive and negative attributes.

City Planner Mark Ostgarden presented the results of the first survey to the Brainerd City Council at the Jan. 17 meeting. The community survey panel consists of 300 people who will take a series of surveys over the coming year.

The community surveys are a great way to solicit real-time community feedback, Ostgarden said. The feedback is also helpful for when the city goes through another comprehensive plan update, he said.

"The typical way of getting community feedback is really not working anymore," Ostgarden said. "Holding open houses, inviting people down to city hall, that is not reaching the public as well as we'd like to reach them."

The first survey included 10 questions which prompted respondents to assess their level of satisfaction with a wide variety of city services. An overall question on the city of Brainerd government's performance, rated on a 0-100 scale, revealed an average grade of 66.5.


When asked to score major categories of city services, only the police and fire departments and customer service from city employees scored more than 80 points. The Brainerd Fire Department scored a 91, while the Brainerd Police Department scored an 86. Individual customer service scored an 81.

Overall maintenance of city streets, buildings and facilities scored the lowest, with 68 points. Overall enforcement of city codes and ordinances averaged 70 points, while communications with the public was scored at 69 points.

A survey question on quality of life did not generate high grades. The quality of life in your neighborhood scored 77 points, while quality of services provided by the city of Brainerd was 75 points. However, overall image of the city of Brainerd was rated 61 points and quality of new commercial development in the city was 63 points.

"We know that there's some reason the public thinks we're not doing a good job," Ostgarden said. "We need to follow up on that question and ask them 'Why?'"

The grading scale used in the survey is on a 0-100 scale, but also incorporates letter grades. Each grade from A-D includes a 10-point range, while an F grade includes scores of 59 and lower. This scale could skew scores lower, Ostgarden said, as someone could give an F grade with scores of 0 or 50 points.

"There's a heck of a lot of wiggle room for people to give an F," Ostgarden said. "And a smaller area for people to give Ds, Cs, Bs and As."

If someone is really upset with city services, the survey gives them a chance to vent, Ostgarden said, by giving the city failing grades. Grades of 0 will drag down the average, he said, but it also gives an outlet to those who aren't getting the services they need.

Council member Sue Hilgart suggested a scoring system based strictly on letter grades and not points and letter grades. The further away from the education system someone is, she said, the less they think about point values associated with grades. The city hasn't gotten any feedback related to people not understanding the scoring system, Ostgarden replied.


There's some blunt messages included in the survey responses, City Administrator Jim Thoreen said. They can bring those responses to department heads and work to interpret the responses, he said, and start acting on them.

"We're trying to identify problems, we're trying to identify those things we are doing well," Thoreen said. "As an initial starting point, this is not bad."

In the future, it would be more helpful to go through the responses in a workshop format, Hilgart said, when the council has more time to dive into the details.

"It really would be good to dig into all of the things we kind of just picked at the edges of," Hilgart said.

The survey made it clear if a respondent didn't live in the city of Brainerd, they should answer questions as if they should, Ostgarden said. Survey results show no matter what, it's still impossible to remove the image of the Brainerd lakes area from people's minds when they think of the city of Brainerd, he said.

About 180 survey panel members responded to the questions in the first survey. A second survey is ready to go, Ostgarden said.


The panel has 300 members, with 187 residents and 113 non-residents. These figures are approximations, as some panel members used work addresses and do not live in the city of Brainerd, Ostgarden said. The panel is 98 percent white and the mean age is about 28 years old.


Men account for 130 members of the panel, or 44 percent. There are 166 women on the panel, or 56 percent. Sixty-three percent of the panel members are married and 23 percent of them are single. Seventy-seven percent of the members own their home while 12 percent rent and another 12 percent live with parents.

Thirty-five percent of panel respondents have a household income greater than $85,000, with another 21 percent having a household income between $60,000-$84,999. Another 12 percent have a household income between $50,000-$59,999.

Thirty-two percent of panel respondents have obtained a four-year college degree, with another 19 percent obtaining a masters degree. The highest level of education obtained by 15 percent of respondents was a two-year college degree.

Seventy-three percent of respondents are employed civilians and 19 percent are retired. Of those currently employed, 33 percent work in management and professional fields. Another 24 percent work in the service industry and 23 percent work in government.

Overall, the demographics of the survey panel don't line up with average demographics based on census data, Ostgarden said. Household income especially doesn't line up with averages, as the median household income in Brainerd is $30,975, according to census data. Among survey respondents, 56 percent make more than $60,000 per year.

"It's not a perfect cross-section of our community," Ostgarden said. "It's just the way it happened."


City staff spent a lot of time and energy this summer in order to get people to sign up for the survey panel, Ostgarden said. The city hired research software company Qualtrics to help facilitate a number of community surveys which will take place during the next year. Survey respondents will be asked to answer multiple choice questions, rank different statements or options and provide comments on certain issues. The member names are confidential as are any individual opinions expressed in the surveys.


When designing the survey, Ostgarden worked with Qualtrics to make sure the survey questions were acceptable, he said, and Qualtrics said they were.

The planning department tried everything it could think of to get people to sign up, Ostgarden said. This included going door-to-door in neighborhoods, notifying the public through news stories and editorials and asking building managers to present information on the panel to their residents. Through this effort, the department reached the goal of 300 signups, he said.

Snow business

In other business, the council clarified how the city handles snow removal parking restrictions during a snow emergency.

The council approved a recommendation provided by city Engineer Jeff Hulsether. When 4 inches or more of snow falls, the city will begin ticketing and towing vehicles parked on city streets that have been parked for more than 24 hours. This policy will take effect in the fall of 2017.

The policy is similar to what the existing city code governing street cleaning and snow removal says, council member Kelly Bevans said. City Code section 1315 includes a procedure for snow removal in the event a snow emergency is declared in the city. A snow emergency hasn't been called for three years, he said.

Delaying the start of this policy until next winter gives the city time to notify citizens and determine the best way to implement it, Bevans said.

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