The new Council

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2004

The first &uot;official&uot; meeting of the new council will tip us off as to what meaningful changes will take place, or at least talked about. I recall reading an interview of then candidate for mayor, Bobby Ralph; he appeared to fault past mayor Dickens for using city employees for help with his mayoral duties…typing, research, etc. Yet the new mayor intends to add a city employee, assistant to the council clerk, to do the same for him. And it appears the stay at home mayor will need an office at city hall. Does he see these as positive changes?

If I recall correctly he also will crack the whip on remedying the childish way in which a mayor is selected. Leaving it up to seven, perhaps ego driven, borough leaders may not result in a worse selection, but it keeps power away from the people. It is left to us to select our borough leader then why not the top dog? Some voters are actually capable of determining who can best represent us and may actually vote. It will be interesting to see if there will be council discussion of this fairly important matter. I recall past mayor Curtis Milteer mentioning it several times.

Of much greater interest to thousands will be discussions of tax relief. I remember Milteer mentioning that several times. I mentioned in a recent column that a Californian’s property taxes, under Proposition 13, could have raised only 49 percent in 16 years, compounding an annual allowed raise of 2 percent, while mine have raised 280 percent during that period. Take a look at yours if you own property, which usually includes a home. Compare your acquisition cost, what you paid for it or cost you to build, with what the assessor says it is worth today. If you are typical you will get the surprise of your life. They say &uot;it ain’t over till the fat lady sings&uot; and you haven’t seen the end of it yet. National estimates are an increase of 6 percent this year, and it goes on and on. You will pay at least a one percent &uot;sales tax&uot; on your property each year based upon what the city claims (ask Planters Peanuts) it is worth.

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Another change to expect would be that past mayor Dickens would dump a great part of his mayoral load on Bobby Ralph. Will he be able to handle it properly while ensconced in his office? I expect he will get out for more than gold shovel assignments and he has stated he wants other members to be more involved in those ceremonial duties. I know he will want to direct the dedication of the Hilton which so many say will turn Suffolk around, employ a hundred, and greatly enhance the tax coffers. Don’t hold your breath on this one. When I compare the view from our Hilton to the view from most luxury hotels I suspect a lot of blinds will be pulled so imagination can go to work. Will council be proud of what it has wrought? We will remember those emphatic &uot;yes&uot; votes.

Then there is the relationship between council and our strong city manager. Even at seven to one it seems likely that Herbert will call the shots just as he is paid to do. I remember Johnson suggesting that the boss &uot;keep plugging&uot; in an effort to compromise with the Nansemond Indian tribe and add tourist interest to Suffolk. It seems to the Indians that he is dedicated to plugging up the pipeline to success and wants them out of Lone Star Lakes where he once said it was a good idea. Council is staying out of that debate and the &uot;task force&uot; has become a &uot;bask force&uot; and relegated to the ash heap. The issue is not yet dead but dying. Will council be cowed by manager strength, or speak up? Place your bet.

There could be a lot on the plate of the &uot;new&uot; council. Managing growth is still numero uno, taking over the roads from VDOT is possible but questionable, property tax relief, how to choose a mayor, sewers and water, parking space downtown, Indians, marina, golf course, Cultural Center, airport franchises, and will the city buy the old Louise Obici Memorial Hospital site? A tough row to hoe, Bobby, are you and council up to it?

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist.