Friday, Nov. 13, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Before city coffers fell on hard times, the big City Council debates over spending focused on which districts would get money for new parks.
With Las Vegas facing a budget deficit of more than $200 million over the next five years, the council’s debates could focus on which parks and other city facilities or services are closed or cut. To inform their debate Las Vegas officials recently reached out through a survey of about 1,000 residents who were asked which services are most important to them in tight budgetary times.
Though the results were mixed, there were a few consistent themes. Public safety programs shouldn’t be tampered with, residents said. Basic social services, including those for seniors and after-school programs, need to be maintained. And jobs are vital.
When asked which of 17 types of programs the city should “place emphasis on” during a recession, “economic development to create more jobs” scored the highest, at 72 percent. Only 16 percent of those surveyed said they wanted more emphasis on the city’s TV station, and just 19 percent said they wished the city would place more emphasis on cultural programming.
City Council members said the survey will influence their decisions on which city programs they’ll continue to support.
“I’m going to give it very serious consideration,” said Councilman Stavros Anthony. “It’s what the people want.”
Anthony, a former Metro Police official, said he wasn’t surprised that public safety consistently ranked highly. He also expected programs that can act as a sort of social safety net — including those that assist children and senior citizens — would do well.
“These are the services that people believe are essential,” Anthony said.
The telephone survey based its results on 972 interviews with residents, and was conducted from Aug. 12 to Oct. 10. Residents in each of the city’s six wards were surveyed.
The well-regarded UNLV Cannon Survey Center conducted the poll.
According to the city, the survey’s purpose in part was to identify a “satisfaction level” with city services, and to identify attitudes and feelings toward any proposed budget cutting. It will be followed by focus panels, town-hall meetings, and an online survey asking many of the same questions — part of an effort called the “Your City Your Way Initiative” (not to be confused with Burger King’s old “Have it Your Way” slogan).
The 96-page report noted 53 percent said they would “agree” or “somewhat agree” that they would be “willing to pay more to maintain services” — meaning, they would be willing to endure a tax hike to maintain their favorite city services.
Ten percent somewhat disagreed with that statement, and 35 percent disagreed with it outright.
But the most revealing results centered on which services are most valued by residents.
Of the 12 program types listed, a majority said they cared more that programs for seniors — 62 percent — and after-school programming — 60 percent — be maintained than any other programs. In fact, they cared twice as much about maintaining those programs than they did about the city’s cultural programs — 29 percent — and the city’s parks and recreation programs — 26 percent.
When asked a slightly different way — which would be “bad services to reduce” by cutting their budgets? — the respondents ranked “general safety services” as the most important to maintain. In fact, nine anti-crime categories ranked the highest, along with programs for youths and seniors. From 84 percent to 87 percent of the respondents urged officials not cut those programs.
That was markedly different from each of the other city program areas — including art and cultural programs, street maintenance, and clearing vacant lots — which received from 65 percent to 70 percent support not to be cut.
Mayor Oscar Goodman said he will place a fair amount of stock in the survey.
“It’s a part of the equation — a very important part of the equation,” Goodman said. “It’s going to help guide us as we go forward.”
Goodman said he took heart in the fact that almost three-quarters of the residents surveyed wanted more emphasis on “economic development to create more jobs.”
Undoubtedly, as the mayor moves ahead with plans for several major redevelopment projects downtown, this won’t be the last time he’ll be mentioning the survey.
He said he’s felt this support from Las Vegas residents — felt it “viscerally” — for a long time.