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Gloom and doom?

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Data released based on a Penn State mail survey of a few years ago paints a dreary picture of a community currently undergoing revitalization.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Data released based on a Penn State mail survey of a few years ago paints a dreary picture of a community currently undergoing revitalization.
Published June 06. 2011 05:00PM

Penn State University's College of Agricultural Sciences has released local results of a statewide opinion survey conducted a few years ago and the data is overwhelmingly negative.

The survey indicates that it's part of a larger project by Penn State to help communities strengthen their capacity for economic development.

In a flyer called the Tamaqua Community Report, survey results paint a picture of negativity, distrust and frustration based on opinions expressed by local residents.

The report states: "Of all the communities surveyed, Tamaqua had the lowest level of average local trust by a small fraction. Nearly half disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that people in Tamaqua share the same values."

However, the survey results don't say if such a condition is simply the result of a strong level of diversity among residents.

In an area called social networks, the report states: "In comparison with the other communities surveyed, Tamaqua ranked highest in terms of the percentage of residents who reported that they would seek help from no one, just over 14 percent."

Under the category of impact and outlook, the report states that "only about one-third of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their household would be better off in the future than it is today."

However, the geographic scope of the report was limited to Pennsylvania and fails to reveal whether this same attitude is felt in communities nationwide or to what extent the impact of the ongoing national recession has influenced responses.

Respondents to the survey in Tamaqua indicated they have lived in the community an average of 38 years and they have an average commute time to work of 26 minutes.

In open-ended comments, the survey offers a scathing indictment: "A large majority of respondents felt strongly that there is 'nothing worse' than life in Tamaqua and moreover that the community is 'doomed.'"

Those conducting the survey apparently extrapolated from open-ended comments that Tamaqua has a "low quality of life."

"Taxes were a central complaint. People perceived taxes as being too high given the town's economic decline," say the results.

One individual Tamaqua respondent is quoted as indicating: "the only people making a good income are employed by the school district, borough, or police department which we are paying for out of those high tax dollars."

Further, "there are cliques that exist and if you're not part of it, your opinion doesn't count." These include members of the school board and local police officers, according to the report's assessment.

In response to a question from the TIMES NEWS, survey coordinator Jeffrey Bridger indicated that 1,000 surveys were mailed to each community.

"This sample size typically results in a margin of error of 4.4 percent," said Bridger. "For Tamaqua, the response rate was approximately 50 percent, which is pretty good for mail surveys."

Bridger also said the results weren't necessarily unusual.

"I would also point out that the results were similar to other communities that have an economy that was based on coal or other natural resources like timber."

In an informal poll of pedestrians in the downtown area on Saturday, all said they either weren't aware of the opinion survey or weren't living in the local area a few years ago when the survey was mailed out.

One man said: "I wouldn't pay any mind to it. The people who tend to return those surveys are people who like to gripe."

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