Our Opinion: Council should proceed cautiously

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2005

Suffolk City Council is embarking on what could be a treacherous slope.

Council will be in retreat today at the new conference center talking about various issues, perhaps chief among them the budget that will need to be approved by May.

With Assessor Maria Kattman’s announcement this week that real estate assessments are going up by an average of nearly 17 percent in Suffolk, no doubt the elephant in the room will be how much, if any, tax rate relief council is going to provide.

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The pressure for relief is being ratcheted up by other communities – most notably Virginia Beach-where the mayor made headlines recently by calling for a reduction in the tax rate.

It’s a good bet that we are likely to see some relief -refusing to do so would be political suicide in the current climate.

But council members need to take a good hard look at where they want the city to go and what they are willing to do to help it get there.

Suffolk and Virginia Beach are in different situations. While the Beach will realize about $50 million in new revenue from the new assessments, Suffolk will see just $8.5 million.

The School Board has already put in a request for $6.5 million of Suffolk’s new revenue and would like another almost $8 million.

Meanwhile, there are many other priorities for the city such as economic development, public safety, road maintenance, etc. All those things plus the need to build a new school annually into the foreseeable future (another challenge not faced by Virginia Beach) mean that there are many demands on the city’s budget.

People in Suffolk are no different than Americans everywhere-we want the lowest possible taxes and the highest possible level of services. So while some tax relief is certainly in order, we urge council to proceed with caution and not do anything that might set our city back.