A good time to wake up

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 2004

Are you awake, are you listening, it doesn’t appear you are even aware.

If you were you’d realize a majority of Suffolk citizens have a belly full of ever-increasing property assessments. It has gone way beyond just pinching family budget,

probably even your own, yet you just sit there beaming, ready to support what officials always refer to as necessary improvements to downtown, convinced Suffolk will not otherwise survive.

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Businesses have been pouring into our boundaries because of available land, easy transportation, available labor force, and out of control housing growth that will provide the customer base. It is doubtful any new business owners are biting their nails while they wait for downtown restaurants, cultural centers, railroad stations, restored old buildings, theatres, etc. Executives of those businesses jet in, check out the business climate, buy land, send in a staff, deal with our economic gang, and jet out. Bob Williams has shown what can be done with open space far away from downtown; he’s building a new city.

A big part of Suffolk area citizens head in other directions than downtown to shop, be entertained, and eat. You will never change that. That tiny little hub called downtown, is dwarfed by its surrounding territory that is the real Suffolk. Our fine restaurants downtown will have to survive on citizens of downtown and people like me who are within easy range. We shop there for some things even though it is hardly handy, but something must explain the success of stores and banks that move outward, away from downtown and popping up everywhere. For some reason a lot of persons are willing to drive as far as Chesapeake Square. They admit they go there for easy parking, centralnesses, and ambience. How much of that can be duplicated in those few blocks called downtown? City Hall official’s efforts to create ambience for its villagers and noontime lunch crowd has sucked up sufficient tax dollars and should leave the rest of creating prettiness up to geniuses like Demi P and Garcia who know what they are doing. Just make it easier for them to get by UDO rules.

Other villages in the 430 square miles do not fare nearly as well as downtown, each considers it too has a downtown, but must survive by being &uot;quaint&uot; because there are few handouts from city hall. Homes and some businesses on the fringe of downtown haven’t fared well either. The creators of the downtown jewel even want the Dismal Swamp &uot;museum&uot; to be located downtown when the Swamp is elsewhere? It’s the fringe of downtown that needs the help.

Now, before certain people get excited about these remarks, I am not alone. I get around, I have email, I talk to people. They ask these questions but only a few have the nerve to stand before a Council dais and question authority directly. And many people have time-consuming difficulty dealing with city hall. If you don’t believe me, try to start a small business. You will be put through so many hoops you’ll forget about it. In order to navigate the maze you need a guide to lead you through the departmental paperwork, your first six months profit will be used to pay the fees.

I must admit what galls me the most is increasing assessments that raise tax dollars to grease the hub. I’ll give you a peek into the future. A neighbor sold his average home for over half a million dollars because of a favorable rural location. What will that do to surrounding homes property taxes? There will be wealthy people moving out of places like Washington when they retire, looking for peace and quiet. They have the money.

Our finance director expressed words to the effect that millions of dollars in additional borrowing and spending the city contemplates could be funded by the significant increases the city expects from further assessment growth.

Do you get it, Council? Were you listening? If you were, to whom were you listening? My guess is it was not to your constituents. Gee whiz, if we could raise the assessments a teeny bit more the city could replace the half million that just went down the drain. If city hall fails to win its argument for seawall reimbursement, there goes another three million.

My property tax for 1981 was $325, the year I built the home. Compare that to this year… $3,254. The very same home but older, same property, same income, but taxes 10 times greater. It is happening to all of you and Council sits on its hands. Even a top of page editorial in the Pilot suggests it is insanity. If taxes had not changed over the years I would have paid a total of $7,475. But I paid $43,140. Where do you think the extra $35,665 came from? That’s right, from savings. Wake up America, Government has discovered an easy, legal way to steal from you and will.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at robert.pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com.