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Smooth Streets At Top Of Residents’ Wish List Poll Shows Road Maintenance Even Ahead Of Crime Fighting

Sun., Dec. 15, 1996

Spokane taxpayers are more likely to bump into potholes than burglars.

And they are more likely to want an increase in government spending to fix streets than to fight crime, according to a new scientific survey.

“You all probably have a problem with the roads,” said Del Ali, an analyst for Mason-Dixon Political/ Media Research Inc. in Washington, D.C. “You drive on roads every day.

“As much as people talk about crime, you have to encounter a street.”

The survey done by Mason-Dixon for The Spokesman-Review and KHQ-TV shows most taxpayers want more - not less - of their money spent in areas such as education, air quality, low-income housing and growth planning.

Their generosity goes only so far. Few residents want more of their tax dollars spent on mass transit systems or a new zoo.

“Unless it’s going to really impact someone’s life … even if it is, taxes are still a very, very bad word,” Ali said.

The survey of 408 people evenly split between city and county residents touched on a variety of topics, from growth management to government spending, quality of life to shopping destinations.

It was done Nov. 18-19 and Dec. 3-4, and has a 5 percent margin of error. Residents showed significant confidence in the way Spokane officials spend taxpayers’ money, Ali said.

“Overall, if I worked for the government, I’d be pretty happy,” he said. “If people really thought government was a flop, they’d say ‘No way. I don’t want them to have any of my money.”’

Despite the strong support for street spending, voters do have a dollar threshold, Ali said. He added that may have been why city residents shot down a street bond last fall.

“When you start specifically talking about the actual dollars, voters get a sense of ‘When does it stop?”’ he said.

The emphasis on street spending is a twist on the usual emphasis on crime-fighting.

“People who don’t like the streets are hollering louder than the others,” said Mayor Jack Geraghty.

Still, nearly half those living in the county’s unincorporated areas wanted “significantly more” money spent on public safety.

“We are spending more money on it,” said Commissioner Phil Harris. “People may not realize how much safer areas are becoming.”

Clearly that’s the case, as more than two-thirds of city and county residents think crime has gotten worse in Spokane.

Geraghty blames that on television. “They watch television shows, and they think crime is rampant, when in fact crime is down,” he said.

Nearly one-third of residents wanted significantly more money spent on education, while another third wanted at least somewhat more spent.

“That’s kind of a sacred cow,” said analyst Ali. “When you’re dealing with education, you’re dealing with children.”

Improving air quality through slightly increased spending also was supported by a majority of respondents. Another third said they wanted spending kept the same.

Exactly half of city and county residents thought spending on parks was about right, while slightly fewer than half thought library spending was adequate.

A majority of residents in the unincorporated areas - and slightly less than half in the city - thought spending on low-income housing should increase.

Nearly half the residents favored spending slightly more on planning for orderly growth and neighborhood community centers.

Residents’ gung-ho attitude toward increased spending stunned a few Spokane officials.

“That is surprising,” said Marshall Farnell, county budget manager.

“I think what they’re assuming is we’ve got this big pot of money somewhere,” Geraghty said. “Nobody says we should be spending less.”

The push for more spending didn’t extend into building a new zoo or mass transit system.

“We don’t have gridlock yet,” Geraghty said. “We’ve still got some wide open spaces.”

Acting City Manager Bill Pupo said he thinks the survey shows that residents’ spending priorities closely mirror the council’s. Spending on police and fire accounts for more than half the city’s budget. Transportation is the third highest expense.

“We need to obviously go into a full-court press on streets,” Pupo said.

Public safety spending and streets also are the county’s top budget grabbers, Farnell said. “People wouldn’t want to see those things cut back.”

Geraghty said he was a bit skeptical of the poll’s results. “So, we should spend more money, but where are we going to get it?”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 graphics 1. Street spending 2. School spending and preventing crime

MEMO: Coming Monday: City and county residents have an upbeat view of their community.

Coming Monday: City and county residents have an upbeat view of their community.


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