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When Mary Beth Geier received the results of the Collier County community needs and assets assessment, she was anticipating some sort of “aha moment” that nobody knew.

Geier, the Florida director of the Richard M. Shulze Family Foundation, admitted she was initially disappointed until consultants told her the needs assessment produced a rarity: agreement from different communities on what the issues area.

“There is very rarely informed agreement,” Geier said. “There is very rarely an opportunity for people across the county to say ‘We all agree these are the issues and we all basically feel the same way.’ Why that is important is that gives now a foundation on which to build on.”

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Geier and Eileen Connolly-Keesler, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County, presented the results of the needs assessment as well as the responses specifically from Marco Island last week.

The assessment was produced after an advisory group formed in November 2016 that wanted provide a snapshot of the community as well as gauge the feelings of residents on a number of domains including but not limited to housing, healthcare and the economy.

Primary data was collected through a community survey as well as focus groups.

Ultimately, 3,705 people participated in the survey, 246 of which came from Marco Island.

Geier said that Marco Island needed 118 people to participate in the survey to be statistically significant so they were pleased with the level of interest.

What was surprising though, Connolly-Keesler said, was that despite Marco Island’s participants being less diverse, older and wealthier than those from Collier County, their responses to what the community needs were very similar.

Marco Island residents identified the following top priorities for Collier County leaders:

  • Higher paying jobs
  • Environmental preservation
  • Controlling housing costs
  • Managing growth and development
  • Public education
  • Reducing traffic congestion

In terms of employment, the assessment found that there was a need for higher paying jobs in Collier County.

A family of four needs $66,127 to live in Collier County but the average takes home $45,448, which is less than the average in the state.

“We are actually paying people less here than we do generally in the state of Florida,” Connolly-Keesler said. “I already told you that you needed 66 (thousand) so you’re 20 (thousand) short if you want to live inside Collier County.”

Additionally, Connolly-Keesler said the county was seeing job growth in lower-wage occupations.

The lack of higher paying jobs is also having an effect on housing as 40 percent of people are living in a home that is classified as a housing cost burden, which means they are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

In addition to median homes being twice as expensive as in nearby Lee County, Connolly-Keesler said the assessment identified the lack of subsidized housing as a problem.

In terms of transportation, there was a general consensus among participants about concerns with the lack of walkability, bike safety and the lack of public transportation.

With Marco Island’s aging population, it was natural that healthcare and mental health services were of great importance.

Not only did the survey raise concerns about lengthy wait times but there were also concerns about the lack of affordable dental care and access to services.

“So many doctors are going to the concierge model that people are feeling like they can’t find physicians that are just the basic physicians you can get into,” Connolly-Keesler said.

Thirty-nine percent of responses found there was an adequate level of support services for residents with disabilities, Geier said.

Marco Island’s responses mirrored the county in finding that there were not enough mental health services in the county.

The last major category the presentation focused on was education on the need to help more children become kindergarten-ready.

Connolly-Keesler said that 34 percent of children were not kindergarten-ready and part of the problem was providing affordable early education opportunities.

While 21 percent of Marco Island participants found that there were affordable options, Connolly-Keesler said that many people on Marco Island may not know because the majority of participants were older.

As children get older, participants were satisfied with the quality of K-12 education but there was a lack of vocational options.

With the assessment complete, Geier said that the foundation was strategizing how it can make a positive impact in different areas before the board meets in September.

“Obviously, our foundation has specific areas of interest,” Geier said. “We focus primarily on education, healthcare and social services so we have all this information, and we are literally trying to figure out what our next steps look like three years down the road.”
 

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