City on the right course

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2004

It is with great interest that I have been reading the Letters to the Editor as well as the opinions expressed in some of the guest editorials regarding City government and the provision of services to our citizens.

While we certainly encourage comments, I believe it is important that on behalf of City Council I write to provide a more balanced discussion on some of the issues, or more to the point to &uot;set the record straight.&uot;

The Suffolk City Council has established five priorities with corresponding goals and objectives. The priorities direct our approach to governing our city and providing services to our citizens. In support of these priorities, Council has worked diligently over the years to enhance our economic development efforts, revitalize our downtown and older neighborhoods, increase resources to fund education, and improve the overall quality of life for our citizens while pursuing a smart growth strategy that balances competing demands with limited financial resources.

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City Council members, I believe, are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. City government must address many of the same issues that our citizens face in managing a household. Our citizens are challenged with staying within a budget while operating a household on a day to day basis in addition to putting funds aside for savings or for investing in the future for their family’s health and well-being. The financial management policies which the city follows do the same thing. The strategies and guidelines associated with these policies are recognized as some of the best in the State by the major rating agencies including Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. We have received upgrades in the City’s financial rating in each of the past four years; an accomplishment unmatched by any other City in Hampton Roads! While the recognition is laudable, the more important fact is that the City is in excellent financial health and will continue to stay that way as we pursue policies that invest in our future, adequately fund our savings or reserve account, and maintain strict budget discipline in our day to day operations.

Suffolk is a growing community that is facing an ever increasing demand for services that are a direct result of growth and development. We are charged with building new schools, providing library services, building new fire and police stations, and offering recreational opportunities. We are all aware that the City can not meet its current or future needs simply by relying on our real estate tax revenue. We must develop other revenue sources to help pay for the growing needs of a growing City.

The decisions that this Council and previous Councils have made with regard to supporting important projects such as the hotel and conference center, the cultural arts center, or investment in Commercial/Industrial parks were and are designed to generate additional revenue and they have made good business sense. Indeed, the hotel and conference center is projected to generate enough new revenue over its 20-year financing term to pay for a new elementary school!

And that is just from the direct tax revenue generated by visitors staying in the hotel. If you consider additional spending in our City by the thousands of visitors coming to this facility, the financial benefits are even greater. It is partnerships like the hotel and the cultural arts center that generate additional revenue to pay for services to benefit all citizens and allow the City to be less reliant on the real estate tax revenue. Our $1.08 tax rate is the lowest among the major cities in South Hampton Roads and I know all of us would like it to stay that way.

For the past several years, Suffolk has led the region in new capital investment by private businesses (nearly half a billion dollars over the last five years), and the creation of jobs.

If we are to continue to build on our past success in attracting new business and the establishment of good quality jobs, we have to continue to invest in the City and its future.

We must continue to maximize or leverage our financial resources to see the return on investments that enable us to fund community improvements such as the new Kings Fork High School, the Downtown Police Precinct, North Suffolk Public Safety facility, and the new Northern Library facility. These are the projects that will make Suffolk attractive as a good place to do business and raise a family. Salaries for our employees including teachers and public safety personnel must remain competitive in the region if we are to continue to attract the &uot;best and the brightest&uot; to provide services to all our citizens.

I hope that all of our citizens take an interest in working with Council in planning for our future. I would encourage you to join us as we go through the process to update our 2018 Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan serves as the blueprint for our City’s growth and development projected out over the next 20 years. If you have any questions about the Comprehensive Planning process, contact me, or your City Council member or the City Manager and his staff.

We look forward to working with our citizens to ensure that Suffolk continues to be the premier destination of Hampton Roads.

We are on the right course, headed for a great future for all of us in this great city.

Bobby Ralph is the mayor of Suffolk.