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Local officials view future with pessimism.

A majority of municipal elected officials say they are pessimistic about the nation's "general direction." One in five expects city services to decrease in 1992.

Local officials' abilities to address significant problems are hampered by financial obstacles and Federal or state interference to the point that one in four reports that his or her city cannot keep up financially with its public safety needs.

Responses to NLC's 1991 Opinion Survey of Municipal Elected Officials show cities caught between the rock of wrong-headed federal priorities and the hard place of deteriorated local conditions. By clear majorities, officials call for significant reordering of Federal spending priorities to address a long list of deteriorating domestic conditions.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said they were either mildly or very pessimistic about the general direction in which the country is headi

Not only do local officials feel that the federal government is performing poorly in addressing local problems, they observe that the Federal and state governments are inhibiting local implementation of innovative solutions. When asked about the major obstacles to addressing their most difficult problems, more than half cited Federal and state restrictions. Lack of money was cited as a problem by almost four out of five respondents.

On the other hand, lack of community concern was cited as an obstacle by only one in four. Only 21 percent said that lack of good program ideas is a problem. Poor management was cited by 11 percent.

One third of the officials returning the survey said that local fiscal conditions would be one of the most difficult problems to deal with over the next two years.

Indications are that the local fiscal crunch may not yet be at its tightest. Over the last year, the local governments of 22.1 percent of responding officials were able to increase overall city service levels. Just less than fourteen percent indicated a decrease. Looking ahead to 1992, though, local officials saw more of a gap. Only nine percent predicted their communities would be able to increase services, while 20 percent acknowledged that a service level decrease is likely.

Some local officials may be resigned to local tax increases, and 31 percent are convinced that a tax increase is necessary at the Federal level. A majority of 69 percent would oppose Federal tax reductions. Of those, 15 percent favor an increase and 54 percent want tax rates to be maintained at current levels. (The question asked was about Federal taxes in general, the type of tax not specified.)

A major reordering of Federal budget priorities is needed, according to local officials. More than three quarters (76 percent) of local officials survyed indicate that Federal spending in domestic areas ought to be increased.
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Title Annotation:includes information about the report; Special Report: The State of America's Cities, Annual Opinion Survey of Municipal Elected Officials
Author:Barnes, William; Dickinson, David
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 20, 1992
Previous Article:New transportation dollars mean new local responsibility.
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