Majority of local residents believe economy improving

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SARASOTA - According to a recent survey conducted by the University of South Florida, the majority of Sarasota County residents believe the economy is turning around. But despite their optimism, many are still concerned about jobs and personal finances. Meanwhile other issues are taking a back seat.

Most people simply don't have the time to check in on commission meetings, so the Florida Institute of Government at USF called some of them for a survey -- 801 Sarasota County citizens to be exact. "It's very important that citizens feel like their voices are heard," says Dr. Susan MacManus, who heads up the study.

It's the 21st year in a row the study has been done. You could probably guess the biggest concern for the 5th year in a row. "Jobs, jobs, jobs."

70% of those asked say their finances are a problem. Besides jobs, the top reasons are home insurance, health care costs, personal debt, and property taxes. "For a number of years it was population growth and congestion and all that. When the economic downturn hit of the course the emphasis has shifted to improving the economy and creating more jobs."

Locals are less concerned about traffic, population, growth and over development, crime and taxes. More than 90% of those questioned believe quality of life in the county is excellent or good. More than half, 56% believe the economy is on the road to recovery.

The survey indicates people's priorities in their local government are changing. That will certainly have an impact on on local politics and already has. Building height restrictions have been loosened, impact fees are reduced, put on hold, or cut altogether. The slow growth movement giving way to the need for employment. "People understand that that in times of economic stress that you can't do everything and that choices have to be made."

61% said they support county initiatives to create good paying jobs. Citizens had high marks for county services and staff, but only about 35% say they trust county leaders "almost always" or "most of the time."

That's still higher than state and federal leaders. 62% object to term limits being increased from 8 to 12 years. "If people don't feel like the quality of their life is as good as it should be in their own back yard they can certainly take that out on politicians at the voting booth."

MacManus says in her experience county officials take the data seriously. "You can show your constituents that you are really listening to them and that you are going to adhere to what they say should be done."

The telephone survey was done in May and June. The survey, research, and report cost tax payers nearly $59,500.