An overwhelming majority of Howard County residents like the local schools. A significant number wants better public transportation and cheaper child care.
Those were three of the conclusions of the Columbia Foundation’s listening project, a survey conducted from February to April of approximately 700 Howard County residents and people who work in the county.
“We felt we needed to do some outreach to other parts of the county that didn’t know us as well—meaning anyone outside of Columbia—and, more importantly, we wanted to know what local issues were in the community,” Beverley Francis-Gibson, president and CEO of Columbia Foundation, said in an interview with Patch.
The survey, conducted in person and online, was the first such effort from the organization, which was started by Columbia founder Jim Rouse and offers grants and technical support for other area nonprofits.
“Most of us are not surprised by some of the findings,” Francis-Gibson said.
Thirty-five percent of those who responded said they were dissatisfied with transportation, according to the results released this week. That issue was also mentioned by about 50 percent of those who were asked how they would spend $25,000 to improve the community.
“”We are nestled between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and unless you have a car, it’s not very easy to get to those places and get back to Howard County,” Francis-Gibson said.
“I heard a lot of the seniors talk about the expense of the local transportation, how long it takes them to get to the doctor’s office or a grocery store, the fact that because they are on a limited budget they sometimes have to make hard decisions about buying their medicine or transportation.”
Twenty-five percent of those who responded to the survey were classified as seniors, 66 and up.
Another significant finding came from the 43 percent who said they have children at home. Those whose household income is between $65,001 and $125,000 a year said, more than any other income group, that they are dissatisfied with child care and adolescent programs.
“We talked to some families who made decisions to have one parent stay at home because it was actually cheaper than child care,” Francis-Gibson said.
Meanwhile, there was much that survey respondents said they appreciated. More than 80 percent were satisfied with available health care, more than 90 percent were satisfied with their access to food and more than 90 percent were satisfied with available education.
They also like the county’s trails, parks and open spaces and the area’s recreational activities, and they feel safe in their neighborhoods.
“Those are the things that people choose to move to the area for,” said Francis-Gibson.
Still, respondents said safety and education could be improved and a “significant proportion” of responses to one question said schools needed renovation and new schools needed to be built, according to a news release.
“People talked about the education system being good but wanting to be sure that we continue to have high standards,” Francis-Gibson said.
People said they felt safest in Clarksville, Ellicott City, Fulton and Laurel, while they saw Columbia, Elkridge and Jessup as the least safe.
Older citizens brought up safety the most, Francis-Gibson said, with worries about security at The Mall in Columbia, on bike paths and at bus stops, according to the news release.
Columbia Foundation will take the results to a committee, which will recommend issues it feels the organization should tackle, possibly in early fall, Francis-Gibson said.
The full report is available at this link.