Council: Trim the fat on the budget

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 25, 2005

The Suffolk City Council is hoping to see a leaner, meaner city budget proposal next month.

On Wednesday, the council directed City Manager R. Steven Herbert to shear any extra fat from his recommended $314.5 million operating budget. Despite calls for a tax cut from some council members, Herbert is proposing the existing tax rate- $1.08 per $100 of assessed property value-remain at its current level.

At the council’s May 4 work session, Herbert is expected to produce a budget reflecting the impact of 2 and 5 cent tax cuts.

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A 1-cent reduction on the tax rate equates to approximately $500,000, said Finance Director Christine Ledford.

&uot;I would like to see the effect a cut in the tax rate could have on services,&uot; said Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett. &uot;If we reduce the tax rate, would we be able to maintain everything we have in the budget that has been presented?&uot;

Herbert defended his budget, saying it revolves around council priorities and includes few extras that could be trimmed.

&uot;The focus on this budget is the same as last year: education, public safety and quality of life,&uot; he said. &uot;We need books and librarians to open the library.

&uot;We fought to keep the tax rate at $1.08. It is a very tight budget, remarkably low for the fastest growing city in the state.&uot;

Reducing the tax rate now could prove detrimental later, Herbert added.

&uot;A 2 or 5 cent reduction may seem like a drop in the bucket now but it will have an incredible ripple effect down the line,&uot; he said.

Herbert said he has already pulled several planned initiatives from his recommended budget to prevent a tax hike. This includes implementing free mosquito control citywide, establishing a rural land preservation program and increasing funding for economic development initiatives.

&uot;We just can’t afford these things right now,&uot; Herbert said.

But several council members still believe a tax break is past due.

&uot;We have never given the citizens back one red dime,&uot; said Councilman Curtis R. Milteer Sr. &uot;I think council needs to direct the city manager to adjust the rate and come back to us.

&uot;Everything is going up but wages and people are struggling. I’m recommending we take the rate back by 5 cents.&uot;

Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson agreed.

&uot;We are overlooking some flat overspending,&uot; she said. &uot;I’ve read this budget.

&uot;There are places we can go to cut the money and it doesn’t have to hurt things that are important to all the city. We seriously need to look at things.&uot;