NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There’s a lesson to be learned from the latest Wausau city survey. The city sent 1,500 questionares to local households to ask about what residents would most like to see from their government. 620 responded. White that’s not a lot, it’s enough to be statistically valid.
If I were going to summarize the results: in these tough economic times, people want local government to do the basics and are willing to do without the frills.
The most-basic government functions are public safety, the local economy, and basic services like plowing and paving the roads. “Extras” like municipal swimming pools and the downtown airport did not rank high.
I consider the survey results reasonable, sophisticated and encouraging. People know the economy isn’t good and that taxes inWausauare higher than surrounding communities. There simply isn’t a lot of extra money. So – lets boil local government down to core functions. We expect cops and firefighters. We expect the city to do what it can to create a good business environment to retain and attract jobs. When it snows, we expect to be plowed out.
The things that scored lower on the survey are special-interest items. Most of us don’t use the downtown airport. It’s a small subset of Wausau residents who do (people with their own jets, business leaders who use private aviation). Many of us may like the idea of municipal swimming pools – but more people don’t use them than do.
What’s the lesson for city leaders? Be weary of a noisy minority that wants to make a claim on public money. If someone were to propose closing the airport (I’m using that as an example; it’s NOT what I’m proposing.) people who use it would howl. They don’t represent a majority of taxpayers. Want to close the swimming pools? You’d get a hearing-room full of swimmers and their parents. But most people in town have never dipped their toes in the water of a city-owned pool.
I’d trust the survey over public comments at a hearing. And remember, the basics have wide, deep, and broad public support. The narrow special-interests have small constituencies. Those things should get money only after the higher priorities are met.