You don’t have to always agree to make it work

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 2004

It is interesting to see the dynamics of personalities and dialog play out in Suffolk, as the legions of those who have an opinion to express about City Management or politics does so.

While there can be an honest difference of opinion concerning policy and how our city should be managed, it is unnerving to see how some seem to be affected by hard questions and pointed dialog.

While I have not been one to shy from the quest to ask the hard questions, it is apparent that some in the community are intimidated by such verbal challenges.

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They should not be, since we normally find that such dialog breeds new and innovative ideas that are the driving force behind new opportunities.

One example of this occurred to me after attending the recent VDOT Road take-over proposal sponsored by the City last week.

It was interesting to see that there were more council members and city staff at the meeting than citizens, yet it did not reduce the validity of the ideas spoken of.

While the presentation by Eric Nielsen, the Director of Public Works and the author of the proposal was very informative, there was very few in attendance to even ask questions.

Even so, perhaps the most interesting question raised was the amount of money that could accrue to the City from the Commonwealth, if Suffolk should chose to take over road maintenance.

The stated amount was a little over eighteen million dollars, with costs to deliver the level of services we now see running about nine million.

This leaves an amount of over nine million dollars that the City treasury could benefit from to get the job done with and even more.

These additional funds could be used to raise the levels of service provided and too address the many lingering road maintenance issues at hand and perhaps even address some drainage issues to boot.

The really interesting issue however, is the yet to be defined amount of money that would pile-up in the General Fund from the capture of Fines and Fees that now go to the Commonwealth.

With the City taking control of all city roads, many fees and costs now budgeted for in the general fund to VDOT for Fines and fees captured under the old plan, would go to the City Treasury.

This figure is estimated to be over two and half million dollars that the city either pays to VDOT, losses due to not having control of the roads and the right-of-way, or missed in fines and other fees.

This amount is above and beyond the funds that are provided per lane mile for the actual maintenance of roads.

The real question to raise is: With these funds accruing to the City’s General Fund, could they be used to fund a real estate tax reduction that City Council has stated could not be funded from any other source?

With over $2,500,000 in additional funds from such savings, perhaps it is time to discuss using this bonus to fund a real estate tax reduction.

The need to restore at least a minimum level of fairness in this area, could be the best and fairest use of these unspoken of funds.

It is time to address this issue and these funds could be the bonus that enables it.

The issue that works against this proposal, is that there are no-doubt those in City Management that already know of these funds and have decided that there are other needs for them.

It is imperative that the issue get a fair and full review, with a look at balance rather than just arrogance and a closed mind.

If this opportunity is not seized to fund such a need that has grown so spectacularly over the past years due to the significant growth we have recognized in assessments, it will most likely never be looked at.

With the many competing groups that demand more and more from our City Budget, it is time to look into how the issue of a property tax rate reduction will ever happen if not with these funds.

The method that could enable this issue is to fund the tax reduction in the 2006 budget cycle and continue this effort each following year from these funds in a sustainable manner.

With assessments expected to run at or above the levels that they did last year, it is time to deal with this issue.

If this opportunity is not looked into with some inspired and &uot;out of the box thinking,&uot; we will all loose.

Given the broad array of benefits yet to be fully discussed about the VDOT Proposal and so little citizen involvement, it is imperative that all citizens pay more attention to how our City Council deals with this issue.

With such a savvy and insightful plan brought forward by Eric Nielsen, it is imperative to capitalize on it in the smartest most effective way possible.

This method could garner more money to raise the levels of road maintenance service with.

We could also reap an additional financial bonanza that could fund the needed tax reduction that has only received lip service to date.

This may be the smartest way to have our cake and eat it too.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at