Council resisting tax rate reduction

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

An increase in the city’s tax rate doesn’t appear to be in the offing.

That’s the good news–and the bad news.

The city on Wednesday will introduce an ordinance calling for property tax rates to remain at their current level next year: $1.08 per $100 of assessed value. The only exceptions are in special taxing districts like downtown, which receives extra city services.

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Citizens will have a chance to offer input on the proposal during a public hearing at the Suffolk City Council meeting at 7 p.m. A second public hearing will be held in May.

Despite the city’s rapid growth, several council members are supporting a tax cut.

&uot;We’ve not given anything back to citizens in terms of an adjustment on the tax rate in the past decade,&uot; said Councilman Curtis Milteer, who is calling for a nickel to be sheared off the rate.

&uot;The cost of living is going up. The cost of gas is going up,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to let citizens know that we are concerned about them.&uot;

Councilman Joe Barlow agreed a tax cut should be made, even if it is only minimal.

During the last council meeting, Linda T. Johnson also called for a decrease.

&uot;People are saying enough is enough,&uot; she said. &uot;I think the fairest way to handle it is to decrease the mill rate.

&uot;I think people are willing for us to trim things back to do that.&uot;

But with the city growing at its current pace, some city leaders question whether Suffolk is in a position to cut taxes.

&uot;The level of services we are able to provide depends on the level of revenue we have,&uot; said Ralph.

&uot;We are in a growing mode right now…and we have got to keep up with that growth.

&uot;I’m willing to holding the line on some projects or issues,&uot; Ralph said. &uot;But I want us to stay on our charted course and keep moving in the right direction.&uot;

Ralph said he wanted to see City Manager R. Steven Herbert’s proposed budget before making additional comments.

Herbert will unveil his recommended budget during council’s work session at 4 p.m. Wednesday. No advance details of his proposal were available.

&uot;It’s an education and public safety budget,&uot; said Dennis Craff, spokesman for the city.

The city is focused on investing in the city’s growing educational needs, including teacher pay raises and capital projects, he said.

Public safety is also a top priority, he said. Besides the city’s ongoing efforts to bring the city’s public safety more in line with surrounding localities, a state-mandated overtime policy for public safety employees is expected to cost an estimated $1.5 million next year.