If pigs could fly…

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

After attending the &uot;mini-retreat&uot; held by city council in the new Hotel-Conference Center at Constant’s Wharf last Friday, it was very clear that the feeling of most senior City Staff and City Council members was; with the new assessments running at 16 percent plus, the bank was wide open.

Almost all of the discussion was about much more spending for everything from schools, neighborhood park projects, pay-raises, new software, and even more leased properties.

With the exception of a few minutes of open comments by a few of the council members at the very end of the meeting, there was not a word about a tax reduction.

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The entire presentation was about spending.

It could be likened to a situation where; a pig has dropped into our lap by way of a $9 million &uot;tax increase&uot; that council did not have to take the heat for, so let’s roast it and have a picnic by spending it all and more.

The City Staff did not hold any punches; they trotted out every spending issue that could come to mind and more to support spending heavily.

The main themes were: &uot;Stay the Course, Focus on Priorities, Work the Plan.&uot;

What this appeared to mean was: Stay the course to spend all that they could find.

Focus on excuses to spend as heavily as possible. And work the plan hard to hide and confuse any reason to lower the real estate tax rate.

All of this is suffered after the property owners of the city were just socked with an almost $9 million property tax increase that is both imprudent and unconscionable.

Just an eight cent reduction in the tax rate would return less than half of these new taxes and that is clearly not likely to happen.

While I personally believe we have a good city council, it was very discouraging to attend a five-hour meeting that had as its main stated theme: &uot;Where it all begins. The road map to success,&uot; only to find out that screaming down the road to run over the citizens was the city manager’s spending plans.

It is both unfair and unconscionable to find such little effort given to any consideration of tax-relief, after the steep rise in property taxes we now shoulder.

One issue that was made by some council members under subtle prompting by staff was; that Suffolk did not need to follow the lead of other communities to reduce taxes, we are different.

Such thinking is both unfeeling for the plight of the local homeowner and discouraging due to the base element of greed involved.

Recognition that these bankrupt policies do affect the &uot;quality of life&uot; for many of our citizens, was absent from the discussion.

The situation we presently suffer, where property owners are being held captive to paying ever-exploding taxes or sell their homes and &uot;cashing-out,&uot; is appalling.

There seems to be no real empathy or recognition at city hall, that equity increases driven by more than 16 percent yearly growth in home and farm reassessments, takes real money right out of citizens’ pockets.

This is done with full recognition that most people would do well to get just a 4 percent pay raise each year, just like the one recommended for city employees this year.

With such a deficit of income vs. real estate taxes paid for the family home or farm, most citizens are reaching deeper and deeper to support a defacto tax increase to support more spending by city hall.

The real question that was posed, but not pursued was; what would city hall recommend if the assessments had only been 4 percent?

It was clear that spending would be less, but this insightful question posed by council member Linda Johnson was quickly pushed aside and the meeting was refocused on spending the mania from heaven.

If nothing else the Hilton Garden Inn retreat was instructive, relative to the fact that it was definitively about spending, rather than fairness.

With their vision so obscured from how most of us are suffering from the tax traps our own homes have become, it was informative to see that our community leadership has abdicated their responsibility for fairness, in favor of a lust for spending.

With such little effort given any discussion at the &uot;mini-retreat&uot; of some level of tax relief for most of us due to explosive assessment growth, it is clear that this issue will only happen if the electorate gets directly involved.

As such, we all have our tax futures in our own hands and you need to call, email, and write your council members about this issue.

There was also insulting discussion that after giving local government more than a fair share of your income, you should be happy with the deal you were getting for the services rendered.

While most believe that government is necessary and it delivers many good services, most of us disagree that it should fund every pig that squeals.

As such, it is time that discussions of a property tax reduction take center-stage in the dialog of city council.

Clear and compelling instructions must be issued prior to the next budget cycle to the city manager, that property taxes be reduced by a sizable amount.

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

Roger A. Leonard

575 North Liberty Springs Road

Red Squirrel Ranch

Suffolk, VA 23434

(757)986-3335h // (757)539-0600w