Tough fiscal times continue for cities
Cities continue to fight declining or stagnant economic conditions and spiraling health care costs. At the same time, many are experiencing resurgent downtowns, and an overwhelming majority of municipal officials feel optimistic about their communities’ futures. Those are a few of the conclusions of the latest edition of the Washington, D.C.-based National League of Cities’ (NLC) “State of the Cities” survey. The wide-ranging survey, which contains responses collected during January and February from 345 cities, also covers such issues as service delivery and the effects of unfunded federal mandates.
NLC President Charles Lyons, who is a selectman in Arlington, Mass., says the survey demonstrates the need for federal aid to cities. “The survey shows that the perfect storm of higher health care costs and poor fiscal conditions is still battering many cities and towns, impairing their ability to deliver services and increasing pressure to raise local taxes and fees,” he says. “It highlights the importance of strengthening the federal-local partnership rather than backing away from it. Now is the time for Congress to be investing in hometown America, rather than under-funding or pulling the plug on important programs.”
Thirty-nine percent of the surveyed cities said that their local economies had worsened in their communities during the past year, while 31 percent reported no change, and 26 percent said that conditions had improved. Meanwhile, 43 percent said their fiscal conditions had declined during the preceding 12 months; 31 percent reported no change, and 21 percent said they had improved. Also, 46 percent reported growing unemployment in their communities; 18 percent said unemployment was decreasing.
As for other financial issues, 58 percent of the cities said that the cost and availability of employee health care is a growing problem; 8 percent reported that access to health care is improving. Also, 63 percent claimed that the effects of unfunded federal mandates and preemptions of local authority had worsened during the past year, and only 1 percent said the problems had diminished.
The survey did contain some more positive news, however. For example, nearly half — 49 percent — of the cities said the vitality of their downtowns had improved during the preceding 12 months, while only 16 percent reported declining conditions. Meanwhile, 46 percent of the respondents said they are “very optimistic” about the general direction in which their cities are heading, and 43 percent are “mildly optimistic.” On the other hand, 8 percent and 1 percent are “mildly pessimistic” and “very pessimistic,” respectively. As for the direction of the country, 10 percent are “very optimistic,” and 44 percent “mildly optimistic,” 31 percent “mildly pessimistic” and 13 percent “very pessimistic.”
In other matters, 41 percent of the cities claimed that their homeland security and emergency preparedness had improved during the past year, while 9 percent reported a decline. Also, 41 percent of respondents said that the efficiency of municipal service delivery had improved in their cities; 8 percent said that service delivery had become less efficient.
Notable stats from the “State of the Cities” survey
43% of the surveyed cities said their fiscal conditions had declined during the preceding 12 months; 31 percent reported no change, and 21 percent said they had improved.
63% of the cities said the effects of unfunded federal mandates and preemptions of local authority had worsened during the past year; 1 percent said the problems had diminished.
46% of the respondents are “very optimistic” about the general direction in which their cities are heading; 1 percent are “very pessimistic.”
41% of the cities claimed that their homeland security and emergency preparedness had improved during the past year; 9 percent reported a decline.