To prepare for an update to the city’s strategic plan, DeLand launched a survey, polling residents about their quality of life, and intending to use the responses to help chart a course for the future.
Paper surveys were mailed to 2,800 of DeLand’s approximately 14,006 households. Four hundred forty-eight were returned.
The 448 represent just 1 percent of DeLand’s 39,000 or so residents. The survey participants were overwhelmingly age 55 or older (76 percent), homeowners (85 percent) and white (84 percent).
Questions explored 10 areas: economy, mobility, community design, utilities, safety, natural environment, parks and recreation, health and wellness, inclusivity and engagement, and education, arts and culture.
Most respondents said they are happy about Downtown DeLand, and that they consider the city a great place to live. Many said they plan to stay here, but not all responses were positive.
But the respondents were far from representative of the entire city.
“I read through it and the biggest disappointment to me was the largest demographic — not that their opinion doesn’t matter — was women 55 and older,” City Commissioner Dan Reed said, as commissioners reviewed the survey results. “There’s got to be a way to engage the rest of the world.”
Their opinions were valid, Reed noted, but he encouraged a more modern approach to surveys to get results more representative.
For what they’re worth, given the limitation of the survey population, highlights from the report:
— People still love DeLand
Eighty-six percent of respondents said DeLand was an “excellent” or “good” place to live compared to 89 percent in 2019. Overall quality of life in the city was rated positively by 80 percent of respondents compared to 86 percent in 2019. While reduced from sentiments some DeLandites shared in 2019, these changes have also been seen nationally, city officials said.
— And people aren’t going anywhere, either
Eighty-two percent of respondents said they plan to remain in DeLand for the next five years compared to 86 percent in 2019.
— DeLand’s businesses are top-notch
Sixty-five percent of respondents said DeLand was a great place to work compared to 61 percent in 2019. DeLand’s “overall quality of business and service establishments” was also rated favorably by 75 percent of respondents compared to 67 percent in 2019. Seventy-nine percent of respondents also said they were happy with the “vibrancy” of Downtown DeLand, a response higher than the national average.
— National economic concerns hit home
Amid high rates of inflation affecting the costs of nearly everything, just 43 percent of respondents positively rated DeLand’s cost of living compared to 55 percent in 2019. Asked whether survey respondents thought the economy would affect their family’s income in the next six months, just 12 percent expected a positive result compared to 36 percent in 2019.
— People aren’t thrilled about DeLand’s ‘direction’
Asked whether respondents approved of “the overall direction that DeLand is taking,” just 44 percent approved. That’s compared to 65 percent who gave positive responses to the city’s direction just three years prior. Just 35 percent of respondents said they were happy with the quality of new development in the city, a steep decline from 61 percent of respondents in 2019 and below the national average.
This confused some on the City Commission.
“We had four members of the commission up for … some sort of election [last] year,” City Commissioner Kevin Reid said. “Three of them were elected, for that matter, and by pretty good margins.”
Incumbent candidates Kevin Reid and Jessica Davis were re-elected by wide margins last year, and now-Mayor Chris Cloudman jumped from being a city commissioner to the city’s first new mayor in more than 20 years in November.
The only sitting member of the commission who wasn’t re-elected was former Mayor Bob Apgar, who retired and did not run for another term as mayor. Also, Charles Paiva wasn’t up for re-election and continues to serve.
— Only minor changes to feelings on public services
While respondents’ feelings on some matters differed greatly from past survey results and national averages, they were mostly pleased with city services like police, fire and others. The largest change was in attitudes toward the city’s Fire Department — from 93 percent in 2019 to 84 percent in 2022 — but the city’s fire services were still rated highest among other services.
— Puzzling responses about public safety
Survey responses about DeLand’s public safety puzzled city officials. In 2019, 71 percent of respondents rated their “overall feeling of safety” in DeLand as positive. In 2022, that dropped to just 62 percent of respondents, placing DeLand below national averages.
However, that figure didn’t match with other questions about public safety.
Ninety-two percent of respondents said they felt safe in their neighborhoods — an increase from 2019’s 91 percent — and 90 percent said they felt safe in Downtown DeLand. That response was down just 4 percent from 2019’s figure of 94 percent.
Respondents were also generally favorable to the city’s police services — 72 percent positive compared to 73 percent in 2019 — as well as crime prevention, which rose to 64 percent positive responses from 59 percent in 2019.
What to make of these responses?
The responses to the city’s National Community Survey — which cost $15,500 — will help chart a course for the city’s 2023 update to its strategic plan. However, city officials recognize that the respondents aren’t representative of the entire population.
But how can the city engage more than 1 percent?
City officials hope moving online will do just that. Specifically with a new online platform, Zen City Engage, which, for $16,500 this year, will allow DeLand residents to respond to short-form survey questions to help with the strategic planning process and to enable residents to weigh in on other city matters, such as budget decisions and how people feel about DeLand.
“We did that Downtown with the chalkboard that’s in Artisan Alley. Now we have a board online where people can say, “Hey I want Trader Joe’s,” Community Information Manager Chris Graham said. “It’ll be a lot easier for us to record those sentiments, and we can ask other questions, of course.”
Responses to questions posed by the city will be visible to other respondents, and the answers will also likely be moderated, city officials said, to avoid the dialogue from getting as heated as Facebook comments sections often do.
With what it hopes will be more responses than usual, the city will use the online answers to help guide future decisions on matters including the city’s strategic plan update.
Beginning in February, city officials and the steering committee will spend much of 2023 crafting the strategic-plan update, and the city will adopt it at the end of the year.