Citizens Worry Most About Taxes

Poll Also Shows Fretting Over Government Waste

April 01, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

County residents say taxes and government waste are the most important issues facing Anne Arundel, with education second and jobs and unemployment third.

Taxes and budget waste were listed as the most important issues for 33 percent of the 800 people who responded to a telephone poll conducted over the past month by Anne Arundel Community College.

Education concerns were the most important issue for 20 percent of the respondents. Jobs and employment were a top priority for 14 percent, followed by crime and drugs (10 percent), growth and development (9 percent) and the environment and the bay (7 percent).

County Executive Robert R. Neall said both the poll and three public hearings on the budget held last week will help him decide funding priorities as he comes up with a budget by May 1.

Last week's hearings weredominated by parents, teachers and students who repeatedly told Neall to provide as much money as possible for education.

A total of 800 county residents age 18 or over were interviewed by telephone between Feb. 26 and March 11. The interviews were conducted by the Centerfor the Study of Local Issues at the community college.

The poll has a margin for error of 3.5 percent. The questions were drawn up byPatrick E. Gonzales of the county Office of Economic Development.

Gonzales said he used to own his own polling company and worked as apollster for Mason Dixon Research, a well-known polling firm based in Columbia.

A key question in the survey was "What is the most important step county government needs to take to improve the quality oflife for you and your family?"

Some 46 percent said lowering or maintaining taxes and managing government better. The only other answer that came close was improving the quality of education (17 percent).

The county government's job performance rated fairly well with most respondents.

Asked to rate the county government's "overall performance," some 46 percent gave it a good rating, 39 percent said itwas fair, 7 percent said it was poor and 4 percent said it was excellent.

Another 4 percent were undecided.

Gonzales said there wasno hidden agenda in the questions, nor in getting any specific results. Rather, the poll was intended as an instructive device for Neall as he grapples with the budget.

"I can understand people being skeptical. Obviously the county wants to promote the numbers and the whole survey and that leads to skepticism, but the most important thing here was that you had a representative sample and you can look at thequestions yourself and decide," he said.

Respondents also placed a high priority on government managing its resources better.

Of those polled, 30 percent had children in the public schools. The average length of residency in the county was 22.4 years.

Some 21 percent of the respondents were retired, 85 percent were white. All geographic areas of the county were represented.

The survey also asked residents to grade the county government's performance, the fairness ofvarious fees, their priorities in cutting county services, and whether they were better off financially or worse off than a year ago. They also were asked whether taxes were high "with regard to the county services you receive."

Attitudes for most responses were largely the same as those recorded in a September 1991 county survey.

This time around, some 46 percent said they were in the same financial shape as a year ago, while 16 percent said they were better off and 37 percent said they were worse off.

The top three items preferred forbudget cutbacks were cultural arts (65 percent), school board administration (59 percent) and road repair and snow removal (38 percent).

Keren Dement, executive director of the county Commission on Culture and the Arts, said yesterday that the results were actually an improvement over the responses of the county's September 1991 poll. In that survey, 69 percent targeted arts and culture for cutbacks.

Sheadded that a national Harris poll for the American Council for the Arts released March 19 said that 60 percent of those who responded favor federal financial support for the arts.

"You have a national poll going one way and a local poll going the other. The real story probably lies somewhere in the middle, I guess," she said.

C. Berry Carter II, acting school superintendent, said it didn't surprise him that the category of "Board of Education administration" ranked secondas a target for potential budget cuts.

"I'd like to see the sequence of questions and how the respondent is prepped to the question," he said. "But it doesn't surprise me any time to see a survey where people respond by saying that a group they consider bureaucrats be reduced in number."

Many poll respondents also said they feel their taxes are too high, and that if the county has to raise revenues, it should first hit developers and select business entities, such as hotels.

Some 63 percent of those surveyed said that if the county had to raise additional revenue, levying fees on developers should be atop the list.

Another 59 percent said they would prefer some type of"special-use tax" that hits hotels. Thirty-six percent said they might favor a county sales tax.

The survey also asked: "With regard to the county services you receive, how would you describe the amount of county taxes you currently pay?"

Some 24 percent responded thattheir taxes are very high; 40 percent said they are a "little high" and 30 percent said they are about right.

Only 1 percent said taxes were too low. Another 5 percent were unsure.

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