U.S. Mayors Cutting Road Repairs, Police Departments, Parks, Libraries to Cope With Economic Downturn, According to New Harris/Reader's Digest Poll


Nov 23, 2010, 09:30 ET from Reader's Digest

NEW YORK, Nov. 23, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Be prepared for a bumpy ride this winter.

Nearly 70 percent of American mayors are cutting back on road maintenance and projects as a result of the prolonged economic downturn, according to a new survey of mayors coast-to-coast commissioned by Reader's Digest and conducted by Harris Interactive. The results reinforce the need for programs like WE HEAR YOU AMERICA, a just-launched grassroots initiative that will spotlight and provide "economic stimulus" to address the challenges facing America's cities (www.rd.com)

While road services was the most cited way for local governments to reduce costs, cutbacks are occurring in every corner of local government, many of which are impacting not only the core city services but the quality of life of citizens. Notably, two in every five cities have reduced police or fire department staff or services as a result of the struggling economy; nearly four in ten are cutting library service and nearly a quarter are slashing after-school and extra curricular programs for kids, due to the prolonged nature of our current downturn.

While the mayors expressed cautious optimism for the long-term financial health of their communities, three out of four said they expect financial challenges to worsen in the coming year, and 39 percent said the worsening will be substantial. As a result, U.S. communities will see a continued reduction of local services from their city government. Mayors report that the primary areas they have already cut back include:

  • Reduced maintenance and services at parks and gardens (41%);
  • Reduced hours, staff or services at local libraries (39%);
  • Reduced hours or closing of recreational facilities (30%);
  • Cancellation of town-sponsored festivals and events (28%);
  • Reduced/cancelled after-school programs targeting kids (22%)

Moving forward, the mayors foresee the economic downturn affecting services in several key ways, among them:

  • Reducing maintenance and/or cancelling road, highway, or bridge projects (69%)
  • Canceling or delaying planned building projects (63%)
  • Cutting services and/or staff in police and fire departments (41%)

Despite the budget constraints, the mayors are resisting cutting back on services that have an immediate impact on residents. Only 9 percent say they have reduced public transit service; just 6 percent have reduced assistance to needy citizens; and only 2 percent say they have cut services or staff in city-run hospitals.

Mayors noted that both citizens and city employees were rising to the challenges of keeping their communities strong. Among the actions being taken, according to mayors:

  • 63% of mayors say city workers were accepting early retirement or reduced overtime;
  • 41% said volunteerism is increasing in their city;
  • 30% said there were increased town-hall meetings to discuss needed changes and cutbacks;
  • 22% said the city had received private financial donations to help offset service cutbacks.

"Reader's Digest became one of the world's best-known and loved media brands by regularly capturing the very best of America. This Harris poll confirms that despite all the talk of economic recovery our towns and cities are still hurting. Through We Hear You America, we're committed to helping where we can and we've made it easier for folks to do something to help their towns," commented Dan Lagani, President, Reader's Digest Media.

WE HEAR YOU AMERICA is a grassroots initiative from Reader's Digest that provides both a public sounding board and commits $5 million in cash and promotional support to address the many challenges facing America's cities and their leaders.  Citizens can now go online now at www.rd.com to cast a vote for their town's share of the "stimulus" to be awarded through this program, to cheer about what makes their town great, to write about what challenges need tackling.  Stimulus will be provided to the towns that cheer the loudest (receive the most votes.)  The groundbreaking campaign will literally be brought door-to-door via a 100-city tour and editorial on the website and in each issue of the 30 million-reader strong magazine, from February – May 2011.

The Harris/Reader's Digest survey solicited the opinions of mayors of towns and cities with populations of at least 30,000, sampled from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The goal was to determine the services municipal leaders most often have to sacrifice due to continued economic challenges, as well as the ways in which mayors and their citizens are meeting the challenges, both the financial and the psychological. The poll complements Reader's Digest's ongoing role as expert curator of content and its reputation for getting to the heart of things that matter most to the American people.

About Reader's Digest/RDA

RDA is a global media and direct marketing company that connects more than 130 million consumers around the world with products and services from trusted brands. With offices in 43 countries, it reaches customers in 78 countries.  It publishes 91 magazines, including 50 editions of Reader's Digest, the world's largest-circulation magazine, operates 78 branded websites and sells 40 million books, music and video products across the world each year.  Further information about the company can be found at www.rda.com.

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.


Karen Reynolds (646) 293-6153/Daisy Matias (646) 293-6160

Reader's Digest Media

Sal Cataldi/Kaitlin Lindsey (212) 244-9797

Cataldi Public Relations

SOURCE Reader's Digest