Monday, June 03, 2002

Poll finds support for upgrades

More want city services improved even if taxes rise

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A City of Cincinnati poll found that growing numbers of residents want city services such as police, downtown development and attention to race relations improved, even if it means raising taxes.

        The results, to be presented today to City Council's Finance Committee, surprised even the pollster, who said it's an unprecedented, across-the-board shift in public opinion in the 26 years he's done the poll.

        “The protest and the civil disorder have really become a call to action, not just in the black community but across the board,” said Al Tuchfarber, director of the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research. “The problem is, which call to action depends on what community you're in.”

        Pollsters asked city residents whether city services ought to be cut to save tax money, stay the same or be improved even if it meant a tax increase.

        The margin of error on the poll, which surveyed 507 City of Cincinnati residents, is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

        On eight key initiatives, respondents were much more likely to want improved services than their counterparts in 1999. Each saw jumps in support by five to 18 percentage points.

        The telephone poll was conducted last August. The city manager commissions the poll every two years, at a cost of $38,300.

        Mr. Tuchfarber said the biggest surprise came in the support for downtown. The number of respondents who wanted to see improvements to downtown police jumped 10 percentage points to 52 percent; support for downtown development jumped 18 points to 49 percent.

        “I think what you really are seeing here, with these huge increases in support for downtown police and downtown development, is people saying, "Please, City Council, make downtown better like it used to be in the good old days,'” Mr. Tuchfarber said.

        Mr. Tuchfarber cautioned that the purpose of the question was not to gauge support for tax increases. Rather, asking the question helps pollsters judge how realistic people's expectations of services are by reinforcing that those services come at a cost.

        Still, some officials are skeptical of the poll's findings.

        Mayor Charlie Luken summed up his response in one word Saturday:

        “Duh!” he said.

        “I don't think we ought to be spending $38,000 on a poll that tells us that city residents have some concerns, that they'd like to see improvements in race relations and basic city services,” the mayor said. “And we paid $38,000 to figure that out?”

        City Manager Valerie Lemmie could not be reached for comment. In a memo transmitting the results to City Council last week, she said, “Citizen participation is critical to developing the budget policies and recommendations for the upcoming 2003-2004 biennial budget.”

        The poll also found that the services that residents are most happy with are the Fire Department (83.7 percent), emergency medical services (81.7 percent), maintenance of city parks (78.8 percent) and garbage collection (74.9 percent).

        By contrast, residents were least happy with downtown development (28.7 percent), job training for youth (27.6 percent), housing rehabilitation (27.4 percent), programs for teen-agers (26.3 percent), neighborhood business development (25.1 percent), and race relations programs (21.1 percent).

        “Those numbers are amazingly consistent over the years,” said Brian K. Ashford, the city's manager of Budget and Evaluation.

        He noted two troubling declines since 1999, however: Favorable opinions of downtown police dropped from 55 to 45 percent, and of race relations programs dropped from 30 to 21 percent.

        And while there were differences in opinion between white and black residents, Mr. Tuchfarber said those differences were smaller than some might expect.

        On race relations, 43 percent of African-Americans rated the city's efforts “poor” or “very poor.” For whites, that number was 41 percent.


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