City Leaders Say Life Is Looking Up But Municipal Officials Worry About Burden From Federal Reform

Life in America’s cities is looking up, thanks in part to better economic conditions, the officials who run them assert.

But local officials are clearly worried about efforts in Washington to move the job of dealing with festering social problems closer to home.

For the first time since 1990, elected officials polled in an annual survey by the National League of Cities described a majority of 30 benchmark conditions in their communities as improving.

Economic conditions, unemployment, police-community relations, recreation and infrastructure were among the benchmarks described by most officials as improved, according to the survey, released Monday.

The survey results were described as “encouraging news” by Mark Schwartz, a member of the Oklahoma City Council and president of the league.

But Schwartz and other municipal leaders are concerned about the potential added burdens on cities from federal welfare reform and other efforts by Congress to push responsibility for managing social and economic problems toward the local level.

Schwartz lobbied for more involvement by local officials in Washington decisions that involve the cities. “Cities cannot rectify the inequities of unfunded mandates without a place at the table and a voice in the national policy discussions,” he said.

Cities still have lots of serious problems. Nearly a third of the officials reported worsening conditions more often than improvements.

Big problem areas included drug and alcohol abuse, youth crime, gangs and, on a more mundane level, problems with cable television rates and service. More officials reported worsening conditions in those areas than improvements.

Asked about the direction of the nation as a whole, 68 percent of the surveyed officials were optimistic.

But when asked about the prospect for a young person’s finding a job and beginning a career in their city, the officials answering were evenly split between generally good and fair-to-poor, even as most reported improving economic conditions.

The survey was conducted by the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. A total of 469 local officials from cities with populations greater than 10,000 responded to the questionnaire.


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