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Most Lewis residents like public hospital, have more positive outlook

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LOWVILLE — Most Lewis County residents would prefer to maintain a public hospital and appear more positive about their lifestyle and economic situation than in prior years, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College, Watertown.

Among participants in the sixth annual Lewis County community survey, 58.3 percent said they would prefer Lewis County General Hospital remain county-owned, while only 17.1 percent would favor the facility becoming a private nonprofit entity. The remaining 24.6 percent were either unsure or preferred neither of the two options.

While current and former hospital employees or family members surveyed showed a 79.4 percent preference for keeping the facility county-owned, 55.5 percent of those without direct employment ties still favored a municipal hospital, while only 18 percent of nonemployees would approve of privatization.

“If you pull that out, it’s still a three-to-one margin to keep it county-owned,” said Raymond E. Petersen, political science professor and director of the center at JCC, told legislators Tuesday.

More than 52 percent of respondents approved of an annual county subsidy to help offset operating deficits at the hospital, with 23.5 percent comfortable with up to $500,000, 22.9 percent with $500,000 to $1 million, 3.6 percent with $1 million to $2 million and 2.4 percent with more than $2 million.

Nearly 19 percent were opposed to any subsidy, while 29 percent were unsure.

In another first-time question, 89.3 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that tourism has a beneficial impact on the local economy, with 79 percent suggesting the county should invest in tourism promotion and marketing. There was 28.8 percent support for up to $50,000, 37.1 percent for $50,000 to $100,000, 8.9 percent for $100,000 to $200,000 and 4.1 percent for more than $200,000.

The survey also included many ongoing questions that, for the most part, showed a slightly improved trend in quality of life and economic outlook.

Asked about their overall quality of life, 77 percent of respondents rated it as either excellent or good. That’s up from 73 percent last year.

The percentage of those rating the overall state of the economy as excellent or good jumped from 19.3 percent to 30.4 percent. That’s the highest rate since 35.2 percent in the inaugural survey in 2007.

The survey also shows 79 percent of respondents finding health care quality as excellent or good, with 72 percent feeling the same about health care access, 83 percent for outdoor recreational opportunities, 70 percent for availability of care of the elderly, 46 percent for access to higher education and even 27 percent for real estate taxes. Each are all-time highs over the six-year history of the study.

Residents report the highest levels of satisfaction with the quality of the environment, quality of kindergarten through grade 12 education, public outdoor recreational opportunities, health care quality and the overall quality of life.

The most dissatisfaction is seen in availability of good jobs, the cost of energy, real estate taxes and the overall state of the local economy.

Only 87.3 percent of respondents said they have safe and affordable housing, down from 96.7 percent last year.

In another first-time question, 38.2 percent of respondents felt the state’s new teacher evaluation system would improve the quality of public education, while 14.5 percent said it would make it worse. The remaining 47.3 percent said either it would have no effect or they were unsure.

Fifty-eight percent also supported elimination of federal income tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 annually, while nearly 33 percent favored keeping the cuts intact.

Results were compiled from 421 telephone interviews of random county residents Oct. 15 and 16. The 67-question survey has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

The report is available at www.sunyjefferson.edu/community-business/center-community-studies/annual-survey.

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