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Economy Displaces Drugs as Cities' Top Concern

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Declining economic conditions have replaced drugs as city officials' top concern, according to a survey released last week by the National League of Cities.

ty leaders reported "substantial deterioration" in all areas related to economic factors--in particular, the rising cost of energy, which 71 percent of the respondents cited as having worsened in the past year.

Asked to name the top three problems in their communities, 34 percent of the respondents named overall economic conditions, while 31 percent said drugs, and 28 percent cited solid-waste disposal.

"The statistical indicators may say we are heading into a recession," said Donald J. Borut, executive director of the league, "but in a large number of places, that's not news. It's current events."

In a similar survey taken in 1989, city officials' most pressing concern was the drug problem, which was named by 58 percent as having worsened. The 1990 survey found that 46 percent of respondents believed the drug problem had grown in their communities.

Education was named as a top problem by 20 percent of those surveyed. Asked how education has changed over the past year, 18 percent of the city officials said it had worsened, while 66 thought there had been no change, and 16 percent believed the education system had improved.

Municipal leaders were somewhat more optimistic when asked the same question in the league's previous survey. At that time, 12 percent thought education had worsened, while 35 percent said it had improved, and 53 percent saw no change.

Crime also continued to be a significant concern, with 33 percent of the city officials surveyed saying it had worsened. Both drugs and crime remained on city officials' list of top concerns over the past five years, and both were viewed as likely to be among their the top three problems in the future.

Along with rising energy prices, city officials also were gloomy about the cost of living, cited by 60 percent of those responding as having deteriorated in the past year. Other areas mentioned as troubling were the affordability of home prices (42 percent), the affordability of rental housing (40 percent), mortgage con ditions (37 percent), unemployment (37 percent), homelessness (36 per cent), overall economic conditions (36 percent), poverty (36 percent), availability of low-income housing (31 percent), and city fiscal condi tions (30 percent).

The survey findings were based on responses from a random sample of 269 elected officials in communi ties with more than 10,000 residents. It has a statistical accuracy of plus or minus 6 percent.--ab

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