Herbert: Tax rate stays put

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 21, 2005

City Manager R. Steven Herbert’s proposed budget calls for holding the line on tax rates and upping funding for education and public safety in the state’s fastest growing city.

Herbert, during the Suffolk City Council’s work session on Wednesday, unveiled his $314.5 million budget. His recommended budget, up 12 percent from this year, revolves around education, public safety and quality of life.

&uot;Despite the fact that Suffolk is the fastest growing city in the state, we are not recommending a tax rate increase,&uot; said Herbert, during a press conference Wednesday morning.

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&uot;We are expecting a 4 percent growth rate next year…and over 1,100 new homes will be built in Suffolk next year,&uot; he continued. &uot;With these homes come increased demands for city services, school facilities, infrastructure and parks and recreation opportunities.&uot;

Suffolk’s current tax rate is $1.08 per $100 of assessed values, the lowest among major cities in the region. Other rates range from a low of $1.19 in Virginia Beach, to a high of $1.45 in Portsmouth.

Herbert’s budget is responsive to calls for giving the school system $39.1 million–a 15 percent increase-in local funding next year. Among other things, the additional money will fund a 6 percent pay raise for teachers.

The other major investment will be in the public safety arena.

&uot;Citizens expect quick and qualified response for fire protection and emergency medical treatment,&uot;

Herbert said.

He is proposing the city spend $1.5 million to bring police and firefighter pay and benefits up to same level as in neighboring localities. Although the compensation study won’t be complete for another few weeks, Christine Ledford, the city’s finance director, anticipates taking a detailed recommendation before council in the coming weeks.

The budget also includes $1.2 million for the state-mandated overtime for police and firefighters and funding to hire eight police officers, two firefighters and three support staff members for the two departments.

Herbert is also recommending continued funding of several public safety programs implemented this year: a Field Training Officer compensation program, midnight shift differential pay program,

master firefighter program and a K-9 program.

&uot;These programs have contributed to the city’s increasing ability to attract and retain quality public safety employees,&uot; Herbert said.

&uot;They have made a significant impact on our ability to increase our personnel numbers up to full complement.&uot;

Herbert is recommending that all other city employees get an average 4 percent pay raise.

Herbert is also calling for the city to invest $970,000 to get the new north Suffolk library opened next summer. His budget calls for $305,000 to hire 20 new staff members and $665,000 for books and other items for the library.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 4.