Two of every three major American cities have been forced to lay off workers because of federal budget cuts, and 40 percent have had to raise taxes to meet costs, according to a new survey of 96 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Cities also reported that as a result of the cuts they have had to reduce school services, eliminate some park and recreation programs, cut back police, fire and sanitation services, postpone construction programs and continue to defer maintenance on deteriorating roads and bridges.
The cuts appear to have had the severest impact on cities in the economically hard-pressed Midwest and in the South, but no region of the country has been spared, according to the survey, which the mayors offered up to bolster their fight against further cuts in January. The Sun Belt cities of Tampa, Fla., and Los Angeles (which is restrained from raising taxes by Proposition 13) both said that they had laid off 8 percent of their municipal work forces, the conference reported.
"Mayors are wrestling with federal cuts at the same time that they are wrestling with the effects of a recession, with tight money and with rising unemployment," said U.S. Conference of Mayors President Helen Boosalis of Lincoln, Neb. "I fear for our cities if the administration is able to get the latest round of budget cuts it has proposed."
Reagan offered mayors little hope in a recent interview, saying he had told city and state officials "there must be some pain" for them until the economy revives and inflation abates.
Parks and recreation programs and supplemental aid that cities have allocated for health and human services for the poor appear to have been major targets for mayors and city councils cutting back spending, but the reductions in services have ranged across the board, according to the survey.
Toledo, for example, has reduced garbage collection from weekly to biweekly, eliminated its consumer protection program and virtually ended park and recreation activities.
Nashville has reduced fire code inspections and "deinstitutionalized" people in the city jail and workhouses. St. Paul, Minn., has closed three recreation centers, reduced library hours from five days to four a week and cut police and firefighting jobs.
In Little Rock, Ark., city officials stopped resurfacing streets after the money ran out and voters repealed a road tax that had brought in $3 million a year.
The property tax has been the prime source of additional revenue for cities raising taxes. Several also have raised money by charging for such services as city swimming pools and tennis courts that had been funded out of city treasuries.
If general revenue sharing and other domestic programs are cut as the administration has indicated, the mayors said they probably would have to cut more services and continue raising local taxes.
The mayors said Reagan's "New Federalism" program is not working for them as they had predicted. As control over federal dollars is shifted from Washington to block grants controlled by the states, the cities have less say about how the money is divided and spent.
Officials in more than half of the cities surveyed said state officials had not consulted them or offered an opportunity to help decide how the funds were to be used. The mayors said they expected this trend to continue as legislatures attempted to please every constituency, particularly rural and suburban areas which tend to dominate in many statehouses.
According to the survey, some of the federal cuts are having multiple impact on cities. Baltimore, for example, reported that nearly 5,000 children stopped buying school lunches when prices rose. As a result, the city may have to end the lunch program for other pupils at several schools because it is no longer economical.
Of 54 cities responding to questions about the effect of the cuts on school lunch programs, about one-third described them as "disastrous," another third said "substantial" and the rest reported only a "moderate" effect.
The administration's elimination of all 300,000 Comprehensive Employment and Training Act public service jobs has not only meant a reduction in workers in city departments and private charities, but also has increased costs to cities because they must pay unemployment compensation and welfare to those dismissed.
Columbus, Ohio, for example, reported having to spend an additional $40,000 to $50,000 a month in new unemployment compensation costs. Other cities said they are spending much more.
About half of the cities surveyed said they had put on their payrolls some, but not all, of the former CETA employes. Private industry has picked up few of them. Of the 10,300 CETA workers laid off in New York, about half were hired back by the city and only about 350 by private industry.
Fewer than 5 percent of CETA workers in Pawtucket, R.I., have found new jobs. None of the 83 CETA workers in Savannah, Ga., has found a job.