Umatilla residents want practical things from their city government, according to the preliminary results of the Umatilla Community Survey.

One survey was delivered to every household in Umatilla city limits — 1,143 — earlier this summer. Surveys could be dropped off at Umatilla City Hall or given to members of the Umatilla High School Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow organization. The students went through various apartment complexes and neighborhoods to encourage responses and help anyone who had trouble completing the survey.

City Manager Bob Ward presented the first preliminary summary of those surveys on Aug. 2, beginning with information about what residents see as the goals of the community.

“The first question asked what of these should the future of Umatilla include, and had a whole gambit of things we included in there,” he said. “The things that rose to the top were pretty basic: Repair what we have, fight crime, medical services.”

The second question asked responders to rank the importance of those options. The top five choices were:

• family-wage jobs and employment

• crime reduction

• quality affordable housing

• expanded medical services

• public access to rivers

“Those responses spanned all of the demographics. People want to see jobs and high-quality housing (for all income levels),” Ward said. “Expanding public access to rivers was the ‘fun’ thing that rose to the top five. It wasn’t people talking about movie theaters, it was basic needs for Umatilla. I think that says a lot about Umatilla. It’s a pretty pragmatic community. When you get down to it, nobody’s asking for frivolous things. They want good, quality basics.”

When asked what capital improvement projects the city should spend money on, residents chose repairs to infrastructure, which includes streets, sidewalks and water and sewer utilities.  Adding curbs and sidewalks to paved streets came in second in the capital improvement lists, followed by downtown streetscape beautification and developing a park at the Old Town site.

When asked what recreational options could improve Umatilla, responders chose a swimming pool, walking/jogging trails, increased access to fishing, bike trails and dog parks as the top options.

In additions to questions about goals and projects for the city, the survey asked for feedback about the Umatilla Police Department as well as background demographics about the responder and their family, such as race, neighborhood of residence and income.

“Some people were questioning why would we do that, and we had surveys that did not answer those questions,” Ward said, pointing out demographic questions allow city officials to compare the preferences of people in different groups. “We can compare how people from South Hill responded to the same questions people from McNary responded to, how someone who makes $26,000 (a year) responded compared to someone who makes $50,000.”

Out of the 488 surveys received, 200 were in Spanish, and Ward said the results of the Spanish surveys were right in line with the surveys returned in English.

“The needs and interests of the Hispanic population are not radically different from the non-Hispanic population,” he said. “I don’t think we need to worry about one group having the upper hand over another because they all want the same things.”

In a portion of the survey on the Umatilla Police Department, most residents were neutral or favorable of the department and the perception of safety in the community.

“People appear to be in support of what the police department is doing. Every question had some responses that were negative, but we had no overall negative responses,” Ward said.

Because of the complexity, the questions on the police department will continue to be analyzed with factors of demographics. 

Officials continue to review the survey as a whole as well. Ward said the Umatilla City Council will discuss the results during an upcoming council meeting, and a document will be available for the public with results from the survey.

“This is just the beginning of the evaluation of it,” he said. “We have a lot more to do. I think this is going to be a good tool for us to move ahead in our comprehensive plan.”

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