Survey: East Lansing Residents Favor Combining Service Cuts With Taxes

Oct 3, 2012

Officials in East Lansing have released the results of a community survey, with the intention of using the information to shape future priorities.

The public opinion research firm Marketing Resource Group contacted 400 registered East Lansing voters for the survey. The margin of error was about 5%. Results of this year’s survey can be found on the city’s website.

In the past, the city has polled residents about every four years. City Manager George Lahanas says he wants to conduct shorter surveys in the future, and do them more often.

He talked with WKAR’s Scott Pohl about what he was hoping to learn with this survey.

GEORGE LAHANAS: In particular, what I was looking for was information related to civic engagement: how are we engaging our citizens? Are we available for our citizens? Are we providing them with enough information to meet with us and provide policy feedback to us? And then, also, are we providing enough support to our neighborhoods and neighborhood associations. Those are a couple of particular areas to me about how we work and interact better with our residents.

SCOTT POHL:What sorts of results are you observing from this survey?

LAHANAS:Overall, what I would say is that a very high number of our residents believe East Lansing is a good place to live. We have a 98% number of people that agree with that statement. We’re just very pleased overall. I think our performance as a city government, in terms of the quality of service we provide, and also our transparency, communication and engagement with citizens are all good numbers. There shows some room for improvement on those numbers, because maybe there’s too many people who somewhat agree when we would like to have more strongly agree. I think overall, it says a very good message that we’re doing a good job, but that’s not why you do surveys, to pat yourself on the back; you do it to see where we can improve, and there are some things we can do in terms of communication, engaging people earlier in policy discussions, and that’s certainly what we intend to do.

Residents want more neighborhood association involvement

POHL:Was there anything surprising in the results this time around?

LAHANAS:I wouldn’t say surprising. I have a strong commitment to supporting our neighborhood associations as a part of civic engagement, and there’s this new initiative that we are undertaking, actually we’re launching it now, on how we partner better with our neighborhood associations. I was very pleased to see that a very high number of residents think a neighborhood association is an important part of a strong neighborhood. But then, there’s a significant falloff about the number of people who actually participate in a neighborhood association. That, to me, is a real cause for action or a call for action, of how we can move that dial and get more people who believe it’s an important thing to actually come out of their house and participate in their neighborhood. That’s something that I’m glad to see people know it’s important, and now we just have to work to try to get more people involved so that we can have more residents to interact with.

Residents prefer combination of taxes, service cuts

POHL:Were city revenues part of this survey, and if so, I want to learn about what people had to say about taxation levels in the city. I believe that East Lansing has a reputation for being willing to pay taxes for certain services, understanding that certain services have had to be reduced in recent years because of budgetary constraints. Were city taxation levels covered?

LAHANAS:There was one question that we had asked in similar ways in the past, that we’ve had fiscal challenges and what were people’s preferences: would they prefer service cuts, to pay more taxes, or a combination of service cuts and more taxes? We were again pleased with the result, that about 66% of our residents said that they preferred a combination of taxes and cuts. There was, then, small proportions who believed just taxes, and a small portion just cuts. So, a majority of people, we believe, are willing to pay more for their services, but they want to know their city government is taking steps to tighten their belts and be responsible.

"A majority of people, we believe, are willing to pay more for their services, but they want to know their city government is taking steps to tighten their belts and be responsible."

We’ve actually taken a lot of steps over the last ten years, even more steps over the past three to four years, to shrink the size of our government, to be responsive to our residents, So I think that we may hear more conversations about the steps we’re taking, but they’ll realize that we’ve been very good stewards of their money, hopefully.

POHL:So what happens next with the results of this survey? Where do we go from here?

LAHANAS: We already, like I mentioned, have been working on a number of initiatives regarding transparency, communication, and citizen engagement: our new neighborhood initiative. There’ll be something where citizens will be able to watch and observe council meetings much more easily. Essentially, they can watch any meeting afterwards, streaming, so they can go on their iPhone or from their Android phone, and see what happened last night at the city council meeting. We think that is a great thing because it really provides the residents with a good opportunity to see what their government is doing. It takes it much more approachable to people.