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Budget crises make mayors feel like "bad guys": poll

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mayors of U.S. cities and towns feel they are being cast as the "bad guys" as they attempt to address budget crises, often through tax hikes and service cuts, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

A Reader's Digest survey found that 48 percent of mayors struggle with the bad guy image and 12 percent said they were frustrated by the lack of appreciation for having to make tough decisions.

Almost all of the 52 mayors of cities of 20,000 people or more said they "are anxiously seeking new revenue sources other than taxes" and 65 percent are considering raising fees for services.

More than half, 52 percent, of mayors anticipate cutting spending in their next budgets.

Services such as maintaining city parks have already been cut in the cities administered by 71 percent of the mayors. Parks were the most sacrificed during recent budget crises - 44 percent said they reduced park maintenance and service - followed by libraries.

Meanwhile, 37 percent say they will provide the same level of spending in their next budget as they have in recent ones, showing it may take some time for civic budgets to begin growing again.

The housing bust, financial crisis and recession created a trifecta of pain for state, county and city governments, and the housing downturn's effects linger, hurting the revenues of many U.S. cities, according to the National League of Cities.

Due to a lag in property valuations used to determine tax bills, the bursting of the real estate bubble hit city revenues hard in 2010, when property-tax revenues dropped for the first time in 15 years.

With states currently pulling back aid to local governments, many cities are preparing for the pain to persist for years to come.

Reader's Digest, which last year turned its attention to funding initiatives and projects that could improve local communities, asked the mayors if they had been "surprised by the depth and length of the current economic crisis."

More than half - 54 percent - were surprised while 23 percent said they were "very surprised."

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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