United front sought on roads

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 6, 2005

Suffolk News-Herald

The public hasn’t been sold.

That was the sentiment of the majority of Suffolk City Council Wednesday as they ended another leg of discussions about the plan to assume control of road maintenance from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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With the last community meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 12 in Whaleyville, Councilman Curtis R. Milteer urged his colleagues to put up a united front to the public.

&uot;There’s never been more than three council members (at the recent citywide meetings),&uot; said Milteer. &uot;It would be helpful if as many council members as possible were

at the meeting. Questions have come, `Where is the council at?’ We (need to) come and let them know that we’re behind this program and it’s going to work.&uot;

Milteer said the major public concern is whether the city will equitably deliver transportation services to citizens across the seven boroughs. Instead, many citizens believe it will become a political favorites process, Milteer added.

&uot;There’s an undercurrent in the public to the plan,&uot; said Milteer. &uot;We haven’t convinced the public that the city would be fair….What can we do to sell the idea? It

hasn’t been sold yet.&uot;

Mayor Bobby L. Ralph, Councilmen E. Dana Dickens III and Charles F. Brown indicated that they’ve received similar concerns from the community.

&uot;I’ve had folks say the same thing to me as Milteer,&uot; said Dickens. &uot;It seems that this is something we will have to lay out very carefully. We can see what VDOT is currently doing. We will overlay our system following those same ground rules.&uot;

Said Brown, &uot;When it comes down to the seven council members, we are educated enough about it to educate people in our district…The bottom line is this decision is better for the city of Suffolk.&uot;

Ralph pointed out that the state would be keeping a close eye on how the city distributes the funds.

&uot;The state has a monitoring system,&uot; said Ralph. &uot;There are certain standards to receive reimbursements. It’s not like we’re going to neglect. We will be monitored closely. It’s a natural reaction of the public that service is not always evenly spread.&uot;

Councilwoman Linda Johnson emphasized that council must work to change this public perception.

&uot;Until we can prove that our integrity is not even piercable, that’s not easily going to be erased,&uot; said Johnson.

In a presentation during council’s work session, the city’s public works director Eric Nielsen said VDOT’s current roadmap would be followed as to the allocation of services across the city.

City Manager R. Steve Herbert supported Nielsen’s comments.

&uot;It’s not a big mystery. We know what the organization looks like today, equipment, man hours, and we know what the level of service is,&uot; said Herbert. &uot;We can make some reasonable assumptions about how we can do business.&uot;

City reports indicate that assuming maintenance of the city’s 430 square-miles of roads would significantly increase its annual state allocation. Factoring in the cost of additional manpower, equipment and facilities, Suffolk would realize a 45 percent contingency, $4.8 million, explained Nielsen.

Annual equipment costs would consume $5.4 million; staffing, $2.9 million; materials, $664,000; and $600,000 to lease facilities. Another $1.25 million would cover liabilities, an amount already funded in the Nansemond Taxing District. Suffolk’s total first-year cost is $10.3 million of the $15.1 million it expects, leaving the locality with the $4.8 million cushion, Nielsen said.

Ralph said he hopes council will resolve their concerns by February to proceed with assumption of road maintenance.