The new mayor’s office hours

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Andy Damiani and I did the entire 30 minutes of his latest TV Roundtable Talk show and somewhere in it I suggested that the new Council and Mayor do something different, maybe revamp council procedures, give the citizens more time to bare their complaining souls. Perhaps throw out some of that boring stuff that nobody understands anyway. Take care of those rubber stamp details some other time and give the public more &uot;have at them&uot; time. Trying to get a message across in two or five minutes is difficult and intimidating. Perhaps more citizens would come forth if it weren’t so scary. Besides, nobody up there on the elevated dais ever answers questions or reacts to hurled charges or complaints.

Then darned if the Mayor didn’t do something different — he declared open office hours. Perhaps now those lectern regulars will see the mayor in his office instead of haranguing the entire council, sometimes carried away with emotion, sometimes downright uncivil, too often hitting the nail on the head. Past Mayor Dickens was just as available but mostly by phone or the Internet. It is a good idea, Mr. Ralph, and it might take heat off the other six. There will still be full council hour in the sun dramatics, emotional venting, but they are used to that. Perhaps more can be accomplished one on one with the mayor in private.

I was pleasantly surprised when Senator Quayle agreed that ever increasing assessments could drive retirees out of their homes prematurely because property tax relief is not based upon income. I pray he is ready to carry a lighted torch with us who are hurting and move in the direction of sensible formulae for determining fair assessments. Hey Chris. But he will need to hear from a lot more people than me. Regardless of your opinion about property taxes you might consider sharing them with him. He is in a position to make effective noises where they might be heard. Phone 1 800 742-8255

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Regardless of your age now, and your current income, look down the road toward that day you hang it all up and retire on a rather lower income. Do you want that property tax to haunt you the rest of your life? It will unless you are rolling in dough. Let me repeat: when I bought my home and land my property tax required 3 percent of my income. Today, after 16 years of retirement on a relatively fixed income it takes 10 percent, 10 cents out of every dollar of income. Our assessments have risen 280 percent and are still rising. This will happen to you if you continue to sit on your hands.

Those who cry out for a five-cent reduction in the tax rate are dangerous…the boys and girls at city hall might take you up on that to pacify you, and you might bite. If your total assessment was only $200,000 you would get a reduction of $100. Whoopee. Don’t fall for it if offered. That is not relief when it is costing you thousands of dollars each year to stay in your home. That’s &uot;peanuts&uot; and those who demand a token five-cent cut haven’t stopped to figure that out.

Of course if there ever is a decent plan for tax relief the burden will shift to others. But that might not be necessary if city spenders shift into reverse and look for means to save dollars currently being wasted or spent unnecessarily on whims. There are little ways and big ways. For example: do we need a Communications Director if the Mayor has office hours and can supply answers?

Surely you have pet suggestions for &uot;unspending.&uot; Think about it at least. For example: some city employees at department head levels have their dues and memberships to various local organizations paid for by you. I’ll wager at least six top employees are Rotarians. Negligible, or does it add up? And consider how many millions the cost of the &uot;Cultural Center&uot; went up in a very short time. If that &uot;business plan&uot; fails we will be stuck with &uot;backing the bonds.&uot; How much to tear down the Birdsong Recreation Center and for what esoteric reason? Put your fertile brain to work, surely the City fathers will listen…aren’t they there for us? Didn’t we put them there?

Robert Pocklington is a Suffolk resident and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at