Arundel poll supports privatizing local services

December 09, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County residents overwhelmingly support the idea of privatizing certain services now performed by government employees, according to a recent public opinion poll.

That's good news for County Executive Robert R. Neall, who commissioned the $13,000 survey to use as a resource in developing future policy and formulating the budget.

Mr. Neall has made privatization the centerpiece of his plan to downsize government so it can weather the lean fiscal future being forecast because of the recently approved property tax cap, cuts in state aid and the poor economy.

Of those surveyed, 56 percent thought privatization was a very good idea and 33 percent thought it was a pretty good idea. Only 11 percent said it was not a very good idea.

"There really seems to be strong support at least for the concept [of privatization], and I think there would be strong interest in exploring it," said Patrick E. Gonzales, president of PEG Research Inc., which conducted the poll.

these things can be done efficiently and cost-effectively, there is real support for it," he said.

County officials said the poll confirms they are headed in the right direction.

"It was gratifying to see that the poll showed so much interest in pursuing privatization," said Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for Neall. "It confirms that the county government needs to take a look at almost everything the government does to make sure we couldn't do it better if we were doing it through the private sector."

The pollsters also asked residents which county services they would favor privatizing. More than 80 percent supported having private firms do printing services, building maintenance and garage services. More than half favored privatizing road repairs and maintenance.

But more than half opposed privatizing operation of the detention center and 67 percent opposed contracting out certain police services.

Among those who said they have a family member working in government, only 42 percent thought privatizing services was a very good idea, as compared with 62 percent of those who did not have a family member in government.

The poll also sought to find out which issues most concerned county residents. The most pressing was taxes: Almost a third said it is their most important concern, about two-thirds said their taxes are too high, and almost the same number said the most important thing the county could do is lower property taxes.

That concern is consistent with the county's vote on the property tax cap, which was approved by more than 70 percent of the voters, Mr. Gonzales said.

At the same time, those same residents do not want to see a reduction in the services the county provides. Posed with a choice, 46 percent favored holding the line on property taxes, even if it meant cutting services. Basically the same number, 45 percent, preferred maintaining services even if if meant raising taxes.

A random sample of 817 residents were polled from late October until early November. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent.

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