Archived Story

$513M budget passed

Published 10:41pm Wednesday, May 1, 2013

City Council approved a $513 million budget on a 5-3 vote at its meeting Wednesday night.

The three-vote opposition, led by Councilman Mike Duman, favored finding a way to provide an additional $1.1 million to the schools to replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment in response to a request from School Board Chairman Mike Debranski.

“My personal opinion is that I think now is a good time to start on our new relationship, and there has to be a trust factor,” Duman said.

Duman proposed allocating the money from the capital reserve fund and replenishing it later with any year-end surplus that might be available.

Councilmen Roger Fawcett and Lue Ward, in their first budget vote since being elected, sided with Duman.

“We need to try to find a way to get it done,” Fawcett said, noting that a new system would likely result in utility savings. “I fully support trying to get some relief to them.”

After other council members noted that the systems could be replaced if they failed, Ward chimed in, “It’s 100 degrees, no windows, and some kid has got asthma — are you going to respond then?”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said she did not approve of using the money in that fund for that purpose, noting that other needs may come up. Schoolchildren could be sent home in an emergency, she added.

“If it broke tomorrow, that’s an emergency,” she said. “That’s a whole different world.”

Councilman Curtis Milteer added: “If they’re not broke, don’t fix them.”

After a failed, 3-5 vote on amending the proposed budget to allocate the money, a motion to pass the budget as presented passed on the flipped vote.

In comments later in the meeting, Debranski said he was “dismayed” at the decision but appreciated the consideration.

The school system has in the past faced lawsuits alleging excessive levels of mold in school buildings that sickened students and staff.

The approved budget hikes the real estate tax rate by 6 cents per $100 of assessed value. It provides $3 million over last year’s funding level to Suffolk Public Schools, which was $6 million short of the division’s request.

Water and sewer rates are set to rise by about 10 percent, to $7.84 per 100 cubic feet for water and $5.82 per ccf for sewer.

The budget freezes eight vacant positions and cuts money for things like equipment replacements and legislative services, even though general fund spending rose 3 percent to $179.3 million.

Two capital projects were delayed to save money, but other capital projects will see the city take on nearly $34 million in new debt.

Later in the meeting, City Council voted to schedule a joint meeting with the School Board for August to begin a new level of year-around communication between the two bodies.

  • hambone

    Some people are so uneducated. The command bus is necessary for emergency situations, worth every cent. I bet if your family was effected by emergency situation you would be glad see police bus. Move to another state or country if you don’t want pay for police and fire equipment. It was needed cry to others .

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    • jhuxster

      Hambone–I understand now. If someone disagrees with you it’s because they are uneducated. I’m sorry–I will try to do better next time. I’m sorry I’m so ignorant.

      I have been in major national disasters on more than one occasion where there was no police command post on hand–disasters far worse than the tornadoes that hit one small part of Suffolk. Didn’t miss it then, wouldn’t miss it now. So from experience, I know it doesn’t help. It just looks good.

      You need to go back and look at the justification for the police command post. THE ONLY example the police chief could cite to justify the expense was the tornado that happened five years ago. That’s a poor expenditure of money–that came out of taxpayer’s pockets. I’ve never understood the government’s ability to justify massive expenditures for things that look pretty. No business would invest in equipment it would use so rarely–it’s a waste of resources. Of course, government doesn’t have to consider that since it can simply come back and stiff the taxpayers again. We have an enhanced 911 center we’ve spent millions on and the latest in radio systems. A police officer on scene can relay all the necessary information. Maybe you ought to ask Councilman Parr and Duman, both who run businesses, if they would invest that kind of money on equipment they know they would only use, in all likelihood, once every five years. Just as they would not give their employees the same kind of pay raise they gave the city manager, I assure you they would not spend their money on a similar piece of equipment. If they needed a odd piece of equipment, they would either contract someone to do the job or rent the equipment. it out. Which is exactly what our police did without any issues. I don’t mind paying for necessary police and fire equipment but I resent having to spend my money for toys for them to run around with. If they had spent the money on bulletproof vests, I would not have said a word. Once more, just because it’s for the police and fire departments it doesn’t mean they don’t waste money–and lots of it.

      Supporting police and fire fighters doesn’t mean we don’t hold them accountable. As a taxpayer and an American, I have the right to demand responsible, fiscally sound, and prudently responsible spending from government at all levels. Of course in Suffolk, we’ve come to realize that is more of a fairy tale than a reality.

      I have noticed on other posts a trend. Whenever anyone disagrees with you, you resort to name calling (uneducated) and suggest they leave. Let me suggest something. First, trust me I’m not uneducated. I may not be able to attend council meetings but I do keep track of city government. Second, if you don’t like people disagreeing with you, then don’t read the posts. Just as the first amendment gives you the right to post your comments, it gives me the same right. I’m not going to move–but I’m not going to be silenced either. City government in this city knows nothing but spend, spend, spend, spend.

      One last point–you never answered my question about where the money came from. Where do you think the tax money to pay for this glorified toy came from? Was it Santa or the Easter Bunny? It has to be one or the other since you seem to think it was free.

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      • MrJiggyFly

        Good post. You won’t get a straight answer about the command bus nor the boat Jhusxter. Both toys is a drain on the budget. The grant didn’t buy the truck and trailer nor does it put gas in the tanks of the boat. Did the grant pay for the original motors getting blown up? Doubt it. Does the grant pay for maintenance and salaries of the operators of both? Doubt it. Too many agencies on the water. About eight last time I counted. Should be stream-lined to prevent confusion and “necessity” of being on the same page as the other. But hey, the way the city, state and federals see it . . . it’s fun spending somebody else’s money.

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  • hambone

    The police command center was bought on a government grant. No city tax money was used. Police officers should have there own vehicle. It helps response time if there’s major event like tornado that hit years ago. So complain but leave police and fire out .

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    • jhuxster

      Tax money doesn’t just appear–it comes from taxpayers and it was a foolish and unnecessary expense. No business would ever invest in a piece of equipment it only uses once every five years. And, I will complain-because I hate the foolishness that comes behind the statement “it was bought on government grant.” Where do you think the money comes from–the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus? And if the fire and police spend foolish money they need to be corrected also.

      In regards to “needing it to respond” the same logic would thus apply to firefighters (heaven forbid the city manager reads that or we’ll be buying them cars). Just recently, I was on 58 and saw a car go off the road behind me. I immediately called 911–there was a Suffolk Police officer in his official vehicle behind me. He went by the accident, turned off the same exit as I, stopped at the light, turned left, stopped at the next light, and then went speeding (doing about 55 in a 45) off the road. He never stopped at an accident he saw. Taxpayers should NOT be forced to pay for a police officers commute. For years, police officers on all shifts used the same vehicle. It worked then, it will work now. I pay to go to both my jobs with my money–police officers can do the same.

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  • jhuxster

    The three councilmen who voted against the budget do NOT deserve our praise. They voted against the budget because it WAS NOT spending enough money, not that it was spending too much. The most difficult thing for many to realize is the tremendous waste in city government. Go out on garbage pick up day and follow the truck on 58–you have a deuce and a half following a garbage truck–that means additional man hours and the fuel for the vehicles. You have police officers with their own private vehicles–why? REDUCE the vehicle fleet and you reduce the size of government. Go by the housing development office and you a fleet of more than 20 cars–most sitting idly. A couple of weeks ago, they were patching (or attempting to patch) potholes on Portsmouth Blvd. You had about five trucks on the street, one person watching another person work. The rest were in their vehicles. You have expensive monuments to government waste (the tourist center, the Hilton, the cultural center) and the like funded and supported by tax dollars. I read recently 8600 people visited the tourist center last year–that less than 200 per week. We have the “pavilion” behind that and a new pavilion going in at Bennett’s Creek. We have a police RV that cost almost $1 million–and even the chief of police could only cite one occasion in five years where it would have been used. In the school system it’s the same. They announce they are eliminating 16 positions in the central office. What they don’t quite explain is they are then added 19 new positions. From Thanksgiving through New Years, city employees received 7 1/2 days off–essentially a week’s paid vacation at taxpayers expense. Multiply 4 1/2 days by 1100 employees and it comes to almost 5,000 man days we, the taxpayers, paid for people not to work. Our Vice Mayor is quick to say we need all these youth centers, but they were closed when the kids were out of school. In Suffolk, we pay the highest water bills by far than any other city. Our garbage fee is the highest. We pay the highest dining out tax in the area. And now, our millage rate is one of the highest. We need to understand–the city council to a person is composed of tax and spend liberals who really believe they are doing you a favor if they let you keep any of your money. We get what we elect–and we’ve elected people with a sense of entitlement–they are entitled to our money because we’re foolish enough to keep returning them to office.

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  • sillysal

    Kudos to Mike Duman who has finally pulled himself out of the pocket of Parr. I knew he had it in him all along but he was a tad scared of the big bully. The coming of Ward and Fawcett has caused Mike to get a little starch in his spine. Now, if at least two new guys who can resist the status quo can come onboard at the next election, Suffolk can overcome the corruption and regain respectability.

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  • Soupman

    I listened to those speaking out at the meeting on the 17th of April and knew that this was only a formality. Who would ever believe that the city council would listen to the taxpayer. We protested the gross pay raise of the city manager last year. They seemingly heard our cries only to back stab us in January. When will this end? Our voices need to be heard on election day. Federal, state, local governments are all the same…feed the fat cats!

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  • Roger Leonard

    More of the same… I must say that given the options offered, this outcome is more than disappointing.

    The Mayor should have led a discussion well beyond the proposed City Manager Budget, but did not. Then, even a reasoned compromise that was affordable and doable, was killed while taking even more from property owners and citizens in the city. This is not leadership; it is abdication to the agenda of a broken-down City Manager that has had few if any good ideas, since she got here…

    I do respect and like the Mayor, but perhaps it is time for a new set of leaders, who will support a new direction in city administration. At this point, almost anything else is better than an overpaid manager, who is supported at all turns by a council that has no rational connection to the rest of us, paying the bills.

    Thanks for trying Mike, Lue, and Roger…

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  • hambone

    It’s time for recall elections for those who voted against funding schools. It’s well worth cost to have recall elections on those who put our kids in danger. I ask someone who knows process for recall elections to start process. Portsmouth recalled its mayor so we can do it. If we don’t next year council and city manager will hurt schools again. There motto is raise taxes and water rates . It’s time step up now have recall elections. If not our city will be a ghost town when everyone starts moving out.the school kids deserve better. Recall elections is needed. Then fire city manager and chief staff and budget director,other bad leaders

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  • suffolklady

    “Mayor Linda T. Johnson said she did not approve of using the money in that fund for that purpose, noting that other needs may come up. Schoolchildren could be sent home in an emergency, she added.”

    Spoken by someone who (1) doesn’t have to worry about her own children dealing with it and (2) doesn’t have to worry about the fact that lost time in school is time lost for preparation for SOL tests and AP exams.

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  • Lovebug

    They say save money, cut costs. etc yet replacing AC and Heating units with units that are going to save money doesn’t make sense. I too have a child with Asthma and the entire time she was in school she had issues at school with her asthma as do many with asthma that attend our schools. it is truly a shame that no one really sees the need. What emergency are they waiting for? The City Manager to decide she wants yet another raise or she will leave? Are they tucking money aside to fund more of her pay? Just seems very out of wack to me.

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  • bfhirsch34

    Property valves decrease by an average of 2 1/2% and our tax rate increases 6%. Water and sewage rates increase 10%, City manager’s pay increases 14%, Most working people’s pay little or no increase. City, state and federal governments are building their empires with our hard earned money, if change is not made, and not too far in the distant future everyone will be going to work to pay for the people that work for us.

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  • teach

    Hmmmm. Someone in the article said, according to how the article is written, that if the children suffer an asthma attach then send them home. Wow. They later back pedal a little and say if the system broke tomorrow that would be an emergency. It is a shame that anyone would have to suffer and then just be sent home when they are at school to get an education. I guess it won’t matter what they miss when they can’t attend school. These city officials never cease to amaze me with their lack of care for their young citizens and teachers. I guess they have no idea what it is like to struggle on the same salary for years and that we are about to take a pay cut with the rise in our insurance premiums. The city manager isn’t going to have that problem. I have lived here all my life and I’m feeling that if the citizens don’t see a need for change in our elected officials, I am going to have to make my own change and give my tax money to a city that may care a little more than Suffolk seems to about their schools. Shame on them.

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  • sillysal

    Better the money goes to uncomfortable children than to an overpaid city manager and her cronies.

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  • westyjoe

    Thanks to the new council members, including mine (Mr. Fawcett), for trying to serve the residents and their children not the city manager. Hopefully with more taken out of our pockets more residents will remember who voted and this time get them out at the next election (yeah, I know it’s a pipe dream)

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    • chief601

      Didn’t they vote against it because they wanted to give the school system even more money?

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