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Sure, the economy's hurting, wages are low and unemployment is high in Utah County, but local residents like living here just the same, thank you very much.

That, at least, is one conclusion of a United Way study that assesses human needs in Utah County. The study, prepared by United Way's Community Planning Committee, has been in the works for more than a year and will be used to focus and allocate limited resources where they are needed most.The $27,000 study already has persuaded some agencies to look at increased funding and programs for such problems as teenage pregnancy and abuse of drugs and alcohol by teenagers, said United Way Associate Director Bill Hulterstrom.

"The mission of United Way is to increase the organized capacity of people to care for each other," he said. Hulterstrom said United Way doesn't claim to have answers to all community problems, but finding solutions is easier once problems are clearly perceived.

To gather information for the assessment, 400 telephone interviews were conducted with county residents at large, and interviews were conducted with 100 individuals who use some form of human services. In addition, 25 community leaders were interviewed and several focus groups comprising human service providers were consulted.

"Needs assessment seemed to be a good thing to do in giving us direction," said Ralph Garn, planning committee chairman and District 3 director of the state Social Services office of community relations. "We hope to get from this survey people working together and networking together."

The study shows that per capita and median family incomes in Utah County are significantly lower than the state average and that a higher proportion of county residents than state residents have incomes below the poverty level.

Nevertheless, Garn said, Utah County residents receive fewer public assistance payments per capita than state residents for all payment categories except "medical assistance only."

According to respondents, the most serious problems facing the county deal with economics. They listed the top 12 problems as unemployment, the local economy, a need for better jobs and wages, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, taxes, pollution, relations between Mormons and non-Mormons, education, traffic and roads, the need for officials to care and youth problems.

The study shows that those involved in the delivery of human services are most concerned about substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, child protective services, delinquency-prevention services for youth, affordable medical care and lack of insurance.

Despite problems, 80 percent of the respondents rate Utah County as either an excellent or good place to live, while nine out of 10 said their neighborhoods are very or reasonably safe. Seventeen percent gave the county a fair rating; the remaining 3 percent said the county is a poor place to live.

The assessment of unmet needs in the community at large also dealt with economics. Difficulty with budgeting, inability to find an adequate-paying job, inability to find full-time employment and inability to afford or get medical insurance topped the list. According to a 1986 Utah County Health Status Survey, 13 percent of county individuals and 19.3 percent of families have no health insurance.

"We have eligible people out there who are hesitant to take services," Garn said.

Part of the reason, he said, is residents' independence sparked by the local culture and religion. Respondents named their family and church as those who should have the responsibility of addressing human-service needs. They listed city and county officials, private citizens and state and federal officials behind family and church as resources for human services.

Other barriers to seeking human services include cost and lack of information about available services. Garn said agencies are increasing efforts to disseminate information on available services.

The study recommends coordinating community planning and economic development, establishing a standing strategic planning human services task force to address concerns, establishing a permanent review committee, expanding programs as needed and establishing a county coalition to oversee efforts.