HOOKSETT — After getting the results of a survey that shows Hooksett residents have a lukewarm impression about their town's reputation, direction and quality of life, Town Administrator Dean Shankle says local government needs to work harder.
"I think we need to focus on communication and engaging people more so they can understand and be involved more," Shankle said. "People are happy here, but not sure we are headed in the right direction. We need to let them know what direction we are headed in and then find out if they think that is correct."
About 60 percent of respondents to the survey indicated they believe the town has a positive reputation — a statistic that is below average compared to residents of similar towns, according to the survey, which was created and distributed by the National Research Center and cost roughly $14,000. The company said its database for comparision includes surveys from about 500 communities where residents evaluated local government services and quality of life.
Town Council Chairman James Sullivan said he thought the responses might have something to do with the current Hooksett High School situation and the very public nature of the discussions among the members of the Hooksett School Board.
Shankle, while being careful not to criticize the school board, agreed.
"I do think (the survey) was an indication that people really like the elementary and middle school here," he said. "The schools always get good ratings here, and once ( the town) figures out the high school thing that will be helpful because people want to know where their kids are going, but people are happy with the school system here."
According to the survey, 53 percent of respondents believe the direction the town is taking is at least good, while 60 percent of respondents feel the image of the town to be at least good. However, respondents did indicate an overall happiness with the quality of life the town offers: 21 percent of the responders rated the overall quality of life in Hooksett as excellent while 60 percent said that it is at least good.
The survey also indicates an inherent pride in the town among residents, as residents were still more likely than average to recommend Hooksett as a great place to live to anyone who asks. "From a marketing point of view to have a really positive response on that is great," Shankle said. "It's what every product wants, to be suggested to friends."
While Hooksett rated below average as a place to retire, it rated above average as a place to raise kids.
"New Hampshire in general frequently hits as not a good place to retire due to property taxes. Low property taxes with high income taxes is a good place to retire — the opposite is a good place to raise kids," Shankle said.
However, the town was rated as much below average when it comes to opportunities in town to volunteer and participate in the community.
"That was one of the things that I was a little surprised about, like the fact that people seem to think that there aren't ways to get involved in town," Shankle said. "There are always things in town we need help with, so we need to do a better job marketing it or maybe even expand how they can participate."
Only 48 percent of the respondents rated the ease of vehicle travel in town as being at least good; ease of bus travel was rated at least good by only 10 percent; ease of bicycle travel was rated at 20 percent; ease of walking rated at 26 percent; and 25 percent rated traffic flow as at least good.
"It is clear people want us to work on maintaining what we have in terms of roads. They rated our summer work as bad, but our winter work on the roads were rated as being very good," Shankle said.
Shankle added that he was very pleased that town employees were rated very highly by respondents for being helpful to residents.
According to a report included with the survey, the results have a 5 percent margin for error.