The real course correction

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I was very pleased to see that Mayor Ralph, a man I respect greatly, has commented on behalf of the City Council concerning the course the City has chartered.

I found his comments to be very lucent, however, somewhat narrow concerning the scope of the present discussion.

I do not mean any disrespect, but the reason many citizens are carping and complaining is not because Suffolk is a bad place to live and raise our families.

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The reason that there has been such a significant amount of dialog concerning the conduct of our community’s business, is due to the very narrow view of our priorities and the number of citizens they really benefit.

The goals that have been defined by Council and that Mayor Ralph spoke of, are solid ideas and efforts, but the real issue of our situation is in the details and how these priorities should be implemented.

We all demand good governance and the services provided by our local government.

We all support economic development, neighborhood revitalization, better schools, better roads, and a balanced approach to the competing demands of growth with limited resources.

What we are all talking about concerns how the available resources the city takes from the citizenry in the way of local, state, and federal taxes are to be spent.

While in the aggregate, the City Council has been good stewards of the public resources we entrust to them, at the margins they have been very wasteful and have missed many opportunities.

These are the issues that we all talk of with such zeal.

The waste that many define is in both resource and expression.

There is a very real and pervasive belief that afflicts our local governance, which states that once a pronouncement is made, we will all understand and get into line.

To chart the right course, our City Council must be more than just good fiscal stewards of our financial resources in an abstract way; they must better communicate with &uot;us&uot;, the what and why of their plan.

Our local government seems intent upon squandering a solid financial reputation with Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s rating agencies, because they continually fail to garner the full support and understanding of the community.

The financial health of our community is more than the bond rating; it is only fully vested by the support of their financial plan, by the citizens.

We need more than just cold technical jargon from our City Manager and Finance Director, we need expression.

I would pose some of the most obvious lessons not learned from our neighbors to the east.

Why has the city been the renter of last resort rather than build what is needed long term, to make so many projects work downtown?

Why are so many of our limited resources spent only on &uot;downtown development&uot;, when we direfully need water and sewer services in many of our outlying villages?

Why has our Council, under advisement of our City Staff, killed the Southeast Bypass only to funnel more traffic downtown, and then complained about traffic and parking?

Until these real questions are met with a fuller explanation by the City Council and our well paid City Manger, they will continue to get an unending ear-full of what-for about Hotels, Clubhouses, Golf Courses, and Rental Properties from the masses.

The recent issue raised by the Manager’s demand that the School Board vacate their existing print shop for rented spaces rather than a permanent solution, is a good example of why the citizens believe that our local government is not working as well as it should.

Another notable example relates to the many years of significant assessment escalation, with not even one property tax rate reduction.


city would have us believe that such is not possible, but many communities in the local area have granted some reduction.

It is well past time for such a reduction, just to keep the faith with the citizens paying the bills.

The City took in over $5 million in additional revenue this year alone, due to tax growth driven by assessment expansion and some small amount should be given back.

The issue is not that Suffolk has one of the lowest tax rates in the area, it is how such a rate has unfairly grown the tax burden for many.

Our neighbors to the west pay much less and as a primarily rural city, we should use them as our benchmark, not the urban areas of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Also, if the City Manager wants to make the Cultural Arts Center work by moving the School Print-Shop then say so, but don’t offer rental spaces as the only alternative. The City Manager should go to Council and find funds to pay for a new building to move this needed operation permanently.

My family and I moved to Suffolk for the quality of life and I do agree with Mayor Ralph that our fine city is basically on course.

It does need minor course correction now, and again that appears where we agree to disagree.

We are headed for a great future, if we include our citizens in the dialog of leadership to define what, how, and when…

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and

a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at