Crime displaces taxes as residents' top concern

April 19, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time in four years, Anne Arundel County residents are more worried about crime than their taxes, a survey released yesterday shows.

About 28 percent of county residents mentioned crime and drugs as their top concern, while only 12 percent mentioned taxes and government spending, the most important issue for the last three years.

That put taxes in a third-place tie this year with growth and development, behind crime and education.

County officials were not surprised by the results of the poll.

"I think it's a national trend," said Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for County Executive Robert R. Neall. "You can't turn on television, pick up a newspaper or read a magazine without hearing about people's concerns about crime."

The $13,000 survey consisted of telephone interviews with 814 county residents between Feb. 14 and March 6 by PEG Research in Riva. The county commissions a survey at least once a year to assist in planning its budget. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Patrick E. Gonzales, who supervised the poll, said he has seen two shifts in the top issues over the several years he has conducted county opinion surveys. In the mid- to late 1980s, residents were worried about the rate of growth and development in the county.

"Right around the '90 elections, it all of a sudden switched and taxes came up as the No. 1 issue," Mr. Gonzales said. Now, it is crime.

County police statistics show that total crimes increased by 4.1 percent in 1993, although the most serious crimes decreased by 1.2 percent. But that drop could be attributed mostly to a reduction in breaking and enterings, thefts, automobile larceny and arson.

Most categories of violent crimes showed increases, including murder, aggravated assaults, and rapes. The only violent crime that showed a decrease was robbery, which went down by 2.6 percent.

The survey also showed 93 percent of county residents felt safe and secure within their own neighborhoods.

More than a third of those polled called for tougher sentences for criminals, while another third said the county should have more programs designed to "reach out and help young people before they turn to crime." But only 9 percent said there should be more drug education and rehabilitation programs.

One-fifth of those polls thought the answer to the crime problem is to put more police on the streets.

One reason residents seemed less concerned about taxes could be the property tax cap approved by voters in November 1992, Mr. Gonzales said. "I think in a lot of ways the tax cap allowed people to vent, and once people have yelled about it, it's over," he said.

Ms. Hayman agreed. "With the tax cap in place, I think that the perception is that property tax rates will decrease for awhile," she said.

Mr. Gonzales also credits Mr. Neall's fiscal management with allowing residents to move on to other issues.

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