Rappahannock News - - FOOTHILLS FORUM SURVEY | LIFE IN THE JEWEL OF VIRG - By Larry “Bud” Meyer

An edi­to­rial about the sur­vey and an opin­ion col­umn by Foothills Fo­rum Chair­man Larry “Bud” Meyer.

rapp­news.com/sur­vey: Links to the full sur­vey data and back­ground doc­u­ments

In a 2013 cof­fee chat hosted by this news­pa­per, Rap­pa­han­nock County cit­i­zens spoke out urg­ing broader, deeper cov­er­age. The non­par­ti­san non­profit Foothills Fo­rum formed to meet that de­mand. Dozens of Rap­pa­han­nock cit­i­zens, been here’s and come here’s, chipped in with time and money. We started with a sur­vey mailed to ev­ery house­hold and P.O. Box to es­tab­lish a base­line sense of our qual­ity of life, the ser­vices we rely on and the is­sues af­fect­ing our fu­ture.

There’s no agenda, no dark group be­hind the ef­fort.

The News presents the sur­vey’s find­ings here for the first time. A team of ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ists pro­duced a de­tailed look, launch­ing a three-part se­ries.

The find­ings are com­fort­ing, no­tably for those who fear a plot to dis­rupt life around here. The find­ings' head­lines: We love this place. We value our pri­vacy. We like our ser­vices. We’re more dis­posed to change than you might have heard.

With nearly 1,400 house­holds re­spond­ing – a rate more than dou­bling ex­pec­ta­tions – all man­ner of in­ter­ests now have real num­bers to back their causes. Not spec­u­la­tion. Not as­sump­tion.

Re­gard­ing the No. 1 and No. 2 is­sues: 1,043 re­spon­dents, or 80.7 per­cent, say in­ter­net ser­vice in the county is “very im­por­tant or some­what im­por­tant.” And 1,037 peo­ple, or 79.6 per­cent, say the same of cell phone cov­er­age. Amid the pub­lic dis­cus­sions on the fu­ture of our vol­un­teer fire and res­cue squads, it helps to know 80.5 per­cent, or 937 re­spon­dents, are sat­is­fied with the res­cue squad, right ahead of sim­i­lar num­bers for the fire squads.

The sur­vey shows vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Now we know nearly 1 in 5 plan to leave in the next few years for job op­por­tu­ni­ties. A sim­i­lar num­ber plans to de­part be­cause they can’t af­ford to live here.

Page af­ter page of re­sponses to open-ended ques­tions echo the im­por­tance of “keep­ing,” “pre­serv­ing” or “main­tain­ing” our qual­ity of life. Warn­ings in those pages de­cry a “lack” of many wants and wishes.

Some may dis­agree but we think that’s the voice of the peo­ple.

The over­all re­sponse of the house­holds re­turn­ing the sur­vey, weighted against the U.S. Cen­sus, of­fer an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of the county’s de­mo­graph­ics: age, time lived here, where we live, in­come and ed­u­ca­tion at­tain­ment. Ques­tions have arisen. Why is the non­profit pro­vid­ing

for this cov­er­age in the news­pa­per? Be­cause non­prof­its have sprung up to help read­ers get cov­er­age they seek in com­mu­ni­ties all across Amer­ica – in­clud­ing Char­lottesvill­e To­mor­row just down the road. Be­cause the Rap­pa­han­nock News re­mains the best source of re­ported, vet­ted and edited news. More im­por­tant, the sur­vey finds folks are roughly twice as likely to rely on the weekly for their news than all lo­cal in­ter­net sources. Why go to the trou­ble? The Foothills sur­vey is a long-term in­vest­ment in the fu­ture, the kind of re­search govern­ments and busi­nesses wish they could af­ford to com­mis­sion. The num­bers of­fer value to elected of­fi­cials, busi­nesses, ed­u­ca­tors, par­ents and ser­vice providers. If these re­sults help any of the above make more in­formed de­ci­sions, then we’ve made a valid con­tri­bu­tion. If they get peo­ple talk­ing about and act­ing on Rap­pa­han­nock’s present and fu­ture con­cerns, that’s valid, too.

Pub­lish­ing the re­sults is a be­gin­ning, not the end. The lead pro­fes­sional, Dr. Tom Guter­bock of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia, says a good sur­vey leaves many ques­tions unan­swered. When 92.1 per­cent say they value pri­vacy and want to be left alone, it begs for de­tail and depth. Now what? Part Two takes a deeper look at the 25 is­sues and what they mean. Part Three will fo­cus on the qual­ity of life ques­tions and sen­ti­ment to­ward coun­ty­wide ser­vices. Foothills Fo­rum has com­mis­sioned ex­pe­ri­enced, in-county pro­fes­sion­als to re­port on the deeply com­plex rea­sons be­hind our gaps in in­ter­net and cell phone ser­vice. A col­lege in­tern will spend the sum­mer re­port­ing on the sur­vey’s find­ings.

Foothills plans open fo­rums to share the com­mu­nity’s re­sponses, hear more about their is­sues, and in­quire about po­ten­tial so­lu­tions. These gath­er­ings mean to com­ple­ment the steady lead­er­ship of our su­per­vi­sors, plan­ning com­mis­sion­ers and other of­fi­cials. The com­mu­nity will de­ter­mine whether change is needed, and its pace. But now we know seven in 10 are at least open to the idea.

The re­port­ing speaks for it­self. So do the num­bers. When nine in 10 peo­ple say they’re sat­is­fied with life here, it makes a pow­er­ful point: There’s more here that unites us than di­vides us.

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