Prince George's County officials said yesterday that a new poll of county residents -- who last year substantially repealed one of the country's stiffest tax limitation measures -- indicates that many are willing to pay more in taxes if the money is used to improve schools and public safety.
Slightly more than half of those surveyed by the University of Maryland's Survey Research center on behalf of the county government said county taxes are too high, and 58 percent said the property tax burden in particular is too heavy, the researchers said.
Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they would prefer a tax increase to reduced services and programs, 33 percent said to reduce services and 21 percent didn't choose either option, indicating instead a preference for better management, dealing with existing revenues or other options.
Two-thirds of the residents surveyed, however, said that money generated by any new taxes should first be spent in the public schools, the researchers said.
The poll-takers contacted 516 county residents in July to ask them about their attitudes toward Prince George's and the services the county provides. The survey cost the county government $9,800, officials said.
More than two-thirds of those reached said Prince George's is a good or excellent place to live and 83 percent gave "good" or "excellent" ratings to the county's fire and rescue services, officials said.
Project director Sue Dowden said there is usually a margin of error of four percentage points for surveys of this size.
County Executive Parris Glendening hailed the survey results as a sign that his administration -- which has targeted education and public safety as top priorities -- is in step with the interests of the county's 665,071 residents.
"It seems to reflect what I've been saying for quite some time," he said. "You can feel out there among the citizens . . . an excitement about the community."
Glendening said that he will use the poll, in which 62 percent of respondents gave him a good or favorable rating, as an "in-house policy document."
The reponses to tax questions, Glendening said, are in line with last November's vote lifting the six-year-old, $143.9 million ceiling on property tax revenues known as TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders). A freeze on property taxes, at $2.40 per $100 assessed value, is still in effect.
"Even if we lifted TRIM 100 percent, I don't think we should raise property taxes," he said.
Dowden said the results of the latest survey are not an indication that people enjoy paying higher taxes, but that "they understand the necessity" of paying for improved services.
Dowden noted that education often overlaps in the study with concerns about jobs, economic development and drug use