Survey Finds Tax Cap Still Favored by County Residents

 

The tax cap appears to be alive and well according to a survey conducted April 7-10 by the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. The Center focused its last survey on tax and spending priorities. The poll of 451 county residents found that most (57 percent) did not think that "the tax cap had hurt the ability of the County to provide services to its citizens" compared to only 29 percent who thought it had. A significant minority (15 percent), however, was unsure.

The poll also asked about several ways in which the County might raise its revenues. One suggestion was the "the property tax cap should be ended." Only 28 percent of the sample agreed with this proposal, while 59 percent opposed and 13 percent were unsure.

In response to a proposal to increase the local income tax, a large majority (86 percent) was opposed, while only 11 percent favored and 4 percent were unsure.

The sample was somewhat more favorable to imposing fees on the specific users of County services, as 46 percent agreed with this approach, while 43 percent were opposed and 11 percent unsure.

To probe the publicís willingness to pay fees for certain services, a series of possible fees was suggested. The first proposed to charge "a $200 fee on each family who sends their children to public schools." Only 26 percent agreed with this idea (70 percent opposed, 4 percent unsure).

The second proposal was to "charge a $25 fee for fire and ambulance responses to your home." This idea was well accepted, as nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of the sample agreed, while only 36 percent opposed (3 percent unsure).

The next proposal suggested a $25 charge for police responses. This was opposed by a majority (56 percent), although 41 percent agreed (2 percent unsure).

A proposal to "charge an additional yearly $25 driverís license fee for road resurfacing" was not well accepted, as only 27 percent agreed while 71 percent disagreed (3 percent unsure).

Another proposal to charge $2 for each library book checked out was overwhelmingly opposed (85 percent disagreed, 13 percent agree, 2 percent unsure). Women (90 percent) were more opposed than men (81 percent).

Even a technology fee at Anne Arundel Community College only mustered a bare plurality of support (46 percent agreed) while nearly an equal percentage (45 percent) were opposed, and 9 percent were unsure. Interestingly, a larger majority (57 percent) of those saying they were at least "very likely" to take a course at the college in the next five years was willing to pay such a fee (35 percent opposed, 8 percent unsure). Dan Nataf, the Centerís Director, said "there is a trend for those likely to actually use a service to be willing to pay an additional fee to get a higher level of service."

When asked about spending priorities, the public seemed hard pressed to identify many areas to cut. Overall, in answer to the question "tell me whether County government should spend about the same amount, more or less than it currently does" on various services, a given respondent was likely to check off 5 services warranting more spending for each service checked off for less spending. Of the eleven service areas mentioned, only one (Planning and Zoning) was chosen for less spending (38 percent) more often than more spending (15 percent). However, a majority (53 percent) was still in favor of the same or more spending (9 percent unsure).

Two areas clearly led the field in the publicís priority list for additional spending: schools (72 percent) and police (52 percent). According to Nataf, "these items correspond to the top three problems perceived by the public, crime (28 percent) and education (20 percent). The public apparently has not made a clear connection between spending on planning services and its second most important problem area: growth (24 percent)."

About one third of the sample favored additional spending on five services areas: environmental oversight (41 percent); fire (36 percent); seniorsí centers (37 percent); health (33 percent); and public libraries (31 percent)

Falling below 30 percent were: parks and recreation (28 percent); social services (28 percent) and roads (27 percent). In nearly all cases, at least three-quarters of the sample wanted to either maintain the current level of spending or increase it. The average percentage of those wanting to spend more on areas was 37 percent, while those wanting to spend the same was 44 percent. Those wanting to decrease funding to a service area varied from four to thirty-eight percent and averaged only 14 percent. (See Table 1).

The survey also queried the public with regard to the relative fairness of the property tax as opposed to the income tax. A plurality of respondents (48 percent) preferred to "keep the current balance between property taxes and income taxes exactly as they are" although more (25 percent) wanted "to decrease property taxes and increase income taxes" than to "increase property taxes and decrease income taxes" (15 percent). Thirteen percent were unsure.

Most respondents were unwilling to pay $200 a year for four years to eliminate "a $100 million school construction backlog in the County public school system." Twelve percent strongly approved of this measure, 25 percent somewhat approved, but 41 percent strongly disapproved while 19 percent somewhat disapproved. Four percent were unsure.

Less than one-third (28 percent) of the sample had children current in the public schools, although an additional 38 percent previously had children in the Countyís public schools. When considering the publicís willingness to pay the $200 school construction fee, there was a statistically significant difference between those with kids in schools, as 51 percent were willing to pay the fee, while only 32 percent without children in school were willing. There was no statistically significant relationship between those who once had, and those who never had children in the County schools. There was a statistically significant relationship between age and willingness to pay the fee, as younger people were more likely to agree than those sixty or older. (See Table 2).

One set of questions asked respondents to say whether "the amount of taxes are about right, too high or too low" at the federal, state and county levels. While the public consistently thought taxes to be "too high," respondents were somewhat more forgiving to County government than the other two levels. Only 47 percent said that county taxes were "too high" compared to 56 percent for the state and 64 percent for federal levels. On the other hand, very few thought taxes to be too low at any level, with three percent at the state and county levels, and only one percent at the federal level. A significant minority in each case thought taxes were "about right:" county, 41 percent; state, 37 percent; and federal, 32 percent. "People appear to favor the level of government which impacts them most directly in their daily lives with education, roads, and growth" offered the Centerís director.

The survey also asked how long the respondent had lived in the County (average 21 years) and whether they planned to remain in the County for at least five years (86 percent).

The poll sampled 451 county residents 18 years of age or older. The poll has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. The margin of error for subgroups is larger. For information, call Nataf at (410) 541-2733.

Survey results and tax issues in Anne Arundel County will be presented at a "Town Meeting" on Thursday, April 24 from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Anne Arundel Community Collegeís Pascal Center for Performing Arts. This meeting is free and open to the public. Speakers will include: Robert J. Dvorak, Chief Administrative Officer, Anne Arundel County, John R. Hammond, Finance Officer, Anne Arundel County, Diane R. Evans, Chair, Anne Arundel County Council, John R. Kurpjuweit, President, Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, and Dan D. Nataf, Director, Center for the Study of Local Issues, Anne Arundel Community College. For information call (410) 541-2407.

 

 

 

Table 1: Spend Same, More or Less on Government Services? (in percent)

 

Service

Same

More

Less

Donít know

6.1 Schools

19

72

5

4

6.2 Fire

56

36

4

5

6.3 Police

40

52

5

3

6.4 Roads

52

29

15

5

6.5 Planning and Zoning

38

15

38

9

6.6 Social Services

38

28

25

8

6.7 Health Department

46

33

14

8

6.8 Library

56

31

10

3

6.9 Parks and Recreation

57

28

12

4

6.10 Aging/Seniors

46

37

7

9

6.11 Environmental Oversight

35

41

19

6

Average

       

 

 

 

Table 2: Age and Willingness to Pay $200 School Construction Fee (in percent)

 

Strongly Approve

Somewhat Approve

Somewhat Disapprove

Strongly Disapprove

Unsure

N

18 to 29

7

38

23

30

3

71

30 to 44

16

23

16

43

5

146

45 to 59

13

25

18

42

4

131

60 or more

9

17

22

46

7

93

Sample Overall

12

25

19

41

3

442