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LOCAL GOVERNMENTS A PRETTY, GREAT UNKNOWN

Most Utah residents see local governments as efficient, trustworthy and accessible. But they aren't always sure what services they provide.

Those somewhat conflicting findings come from a statewide poll conducted for the Utah League of Cities and Towns, which concluded a two-day meeting in St. George Friday.During the last week of March, pollster Dan Jones & Associates interviewed 607 residents of cities and towns throughout the state. Respondents were asked a series of 80 questions about government services and policy.

Jones found that 58 percent rated municipal government good or excellent. When asked about state government, the figure rose to 66 percent.

However, when given a list of services, only 27 percent could identify their fire department as a municipal service. The figure for garbage removal was 40 percent, while snow removal came in at 14 percent.

"You lose ownership in the community if people don't understand who provides the service," said league executive director Ken Bullock. "The sense of participation by the municipal government may be lost."

Asked to identify which level of government can best handle community needs, priorities and values, the respondents overwhelmingly picked municipal over the state government.

The problem is that local governments have little flexibility in the ways they can raise money. City councils are limited in their taxing power by the state Legislature.

"That tells us that municipalities will need more budgetary flexibility from the state to do these things," said Bullock.

The league added an unusual wrinkle to the survey by dividing the respondents into two groups: the general public accounted for about 500 of those questioned, while the remaining 100 included educators, news media and business executives - a group viewed as key opinionmakers who would be more informed about government functions.

The smaller group was more complimentary of the role of municipal governments than the general respondents.

For example, 82 percent of the leaders said local governments are most responsive to community needs, 82 percent said cities and towns are more efficient and 67 percent agreed they are the most open to public scrutiny.

For the general citizen-respondents, the figures were 50 percent, 46 percent and 39 percent, respectively, for those three questions.

The poll results were contained in a story in Saturday's Salt Lake Tribune.