City Council OKs #036;250M budget

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 22, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

As expected, the Suffolk City Council on Wednesday adopted its $250.2 million operating budget for 2003-2004.

But in a surprise move, the council voted 4-3 against a proposal to cut the incremental tax rate in the Suffolk taxing district by 2 cents.

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Ever since the 1974 merger of Suffolk and old Nansemond County, residents in the special taxing district have paid an additional 16 cents per $100 of assessed property value for extra services, including mosquito control, stormwater control and commercial trash pickup.

City Manager Steve Herbert’s recommended budget called for reducing the tax rate to 14 cents, largely because the district’s tax base has steadily grown over the last seven years. Consequently, it costs the city less to provide the services.

Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson refused to support the proposal to reduce the incremental tax. &uot;It had never been discussed (before the budget was introduced),&uot; she said.

Councilman Calvin Jones backed her, saying he felt it would be more appropriate for any changes to be made after the city completes its planned review of all the city’s special taxing districts.

Mayor E. Dana Dickens and Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett also voted against implementing the tax reduction.

Councilman Bobby Ralph, who represents most residents in the district, urged his fellow council members to support the proposal. He said downtown Suffolk residents should not have to pay more than it costs the city to provide the extra services they are receiving.

&uot;If it is not legally inappropriate, I think it is morally inappropriate,&uot; Ralph said. &uot;…I’m coming from the standpoint of what it cost to deliver the services.

&uot;Let’s not create a slush fund and hold hostage a few people.&uot;

Because of his fellow councilmembers’ refusal to support the reduction, Ralph voted against adopting the city’s operating budget. Otherwise, he said the city had a good budget.

Next year’s $250.2 million operating budget

– which is approximately $23 million over the current one – is giving the city’s 950 employees an average 4.5 percent pay raise.

Other budget highlights include:

nFund 32 new positions, including 17 public safety positions to fully staff the North Suffolk Public Safety Center; a communications director; and two additional library positions.

nEstablish a golf course fund of $616,000, which will be used to finance the Sleepy Hole Golf Course reopening once the renovation is finished next summer. The golf course will be self-supporting and the money will be repaid to the city.

nThe budget calls for increasing the cigarette tax from 30 to 50 cents per pack and increasing the E-911 fee from $2 to $2.50.