City Receives High Marks in Mayor’s Poll By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday June 24, 2005

The Fire Department is Berkeley’s top budget priority according to an unscientific survey of residents released Tuesday by Mayor Tom Bates. 

Fire protection and emergency services, both provided by the Fire Department, ranked one and two among survey participants. Business assistance, job training, affordable housing and arts programs were rated as the lowest priorities out of a list of 18. 

The top priorities after fire and emergency services were: Police, libraries, parks, child care and after school programs, health programs, senior and disabled programs, street and sidewalk repair, transportation and parking, audits, homeless programs and bicycle programs. 

The survey didn’t appear to influence the mayor’s recommendations for funding community agencies, also released this week. The biggest beneficiaries were the civic arts program, a youth jobs program, and the Berkeley Guides, which serves downtown businesses. 

Survey participants gave the city high marks overall for services. Fifty-nine percent responded that city services were good to excellent, while just 18 percent ranked such services as below average or very poor. 

Respondents were not offered categories to express their opinions on land use, development, zoning or growth. 

Despite the low ranking for business assistance, 69 percent of respondents said economic development was an important issue. 

655 residents took the survey, the majority of whom attended one of the mayor’s recent public meetings. Others took the survey online. 

Also some council districts were disproportionately represented. District 1, Northwest Berkeley, accounted for 23 percent of the respondents, while District 4, Central Berkeley, accounted for 4 percent.  

The mayor’s office acknowledged that the survey was not a validly accurate public opinion poll. 

At Tuesday’s council meeting Mayor Bates said that if revenues were strong he would consider restoring funding to the fire department. To help close an $8.9 million budget deficit, the city will rotate the closure of fire companies starting in July.