Signs of the economic times

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 17, 2003

You know times are good when faced with declining state revenues a city can increase its budget by 9.4 percent without raising the tax rate.

Granted, hiked assessments without a corresponding decrease in the tax rate amount to a defacto tax increase, generally the additional nearly $23 million it will take to run Suffolk next year is the result of robust, growing economy.

Particularly gratifying to city officials is the recommended reduction in the incremental real estate tax rate in the Suffolk Taxing District from 16 cents to 14 cents while maintaining the current level of services. This has been made possible by the increased economic activity in downtown, a return being realized on the substantial investment and attention that has been given the District, a focus that has often come under criticism from residents of other areas of the city who have felt neglected.

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City administration has much of which to be proud. But just because we have it, doesn’t mean we have to spend it. A quick glance through the budget raises some questions that council members should feel duty-bound to ask. Is it necessary to allocate $77,500 for travel and training between city council, the city managers and city attorney? Why do six full-time employees in Human Services require $85,000 for training next year?

These may well be essential expenditures, vital to the continued efficient operation of city government, we don’t know. But between now and adoption of the budget presented Wednesday, we all should.

As a side note, the budget document distributed Wednesday was unspecific regarding salary increases, referring only to &uot;average 4.5 percent pay increase for city employees.&uot; While that’s certainly not unreasonable during good economic times, if this &uot;average&uot; increase is weighted heavily toward management on a percentage basis as it was in the current budget, then officials should be up front about it. They weren’t last year and credibility and morale suffered as a result.