Both rich and poorer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2005

We recently heard from our mayor and other leaders, about how well our community is doing.

The backdrop for this revelation was the new Hilton Hotel located downtown where in our name; the city management has invested so heavily with our monies and futures.

Perhaps this was the most appropriate setting for such pronouncements, given the fact that it highlights how things really are for most of us in the community due to our rising tax burden.

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This sound bite exhibited within the &uot;Crown Jewel of Downtown&uot; and showcases in the starkest terms, the dichotomy of the real issue that many are just starting to talk of in earnest.

This issue includes the fact that many citizens of Suffolk are both enriched by the rising assessments for their homes and farms, yet are cash poor due to the rising tax burden such higher assessments take.

This is the dilemma that must be recognized by our city administration and specifically dealt with by the city council.

To date, there has only been a minority on council with the moxy to challenge the city manager’s budget request to spend every dime he can squeeze out of the populace.

This charge has been lead by Linda Johnson and Curtis Milteer. The real political question that will define where and how we proceed from here, attaches directly to the question of tax fairness and if there will be any reduction in the amount of real estate taxes that are taken by the ever rising assessments.

It looks doubtful that there will be any recognition by some council members that such taxation policy does affect the quality of the average citizen’s life much more than city management would like to admit.

Without some reasonable tax reduction and the attached restraint in city spending, many of us are so home rich, that after paying our rising taxes, we can’t afford any of the good life spoken of by the mayor in the &uot;State of the City&uot; speech.

This can also be seen in the double-speak put forth by the mayor and others demanding that council members do the city manager’s job and find cuts in his budget to fund tax reductions.

As such, there is a clear and compelling political storm on the horizon that will become a frenzy this winter and next year, as four of the most controversial members of Council run for their seats.

It just happens that all four of these council members except Councilman Jones, brought us the VDOT road debacle we are now saddled with.

This issue is not going to be easily forgotten by some, but the real issue that will fester with the populace is the issue of taxes and spending.

As the year winds down and the election season opens for the seats held by: Mayor Ralph, council members Brown, Jones, and Barlow; there will be some very interesting explanations about why tax discrimination is good policy.

It is not rocket science to understand that while the populace might forgive the VDOT issues by year’s-end, they will not be so inclined about taxes due in January, while they shop for Christmas presents in December.

These issues include the pain that the new tax rates driven by the recent property assessments, will be tipping-over the budget of many citizens, as they choose between Johnny’s newest PlayStation gift or saving more for taxes on the home or farm.

This issue alone will form in the minds of many voters; what our city administration has done to them in the name of ill conceived downtown projects, that our city manager states &uot;can’t afford any tax reduction.&uot;

The dynamic that such a situation will have at such a crucial time in our community, is both instructive to the informed observer and perhaps the most powerful political issue to arise in the coming political season.

As such, this may be the only issue that will drive one more member of council to stand-up to the administration and say; &uot;enough is enough&uot; and demand some measure of fairness for the citizens.

It is clear that without this direct political dynamic, council would be happy to sit on the fence as they did last year and allow the downtown spending rage to continue.

Pinning all of the hopes for the rest of us who don’t live, work, or wish to invest our entire futures downtown; it’s a sad state of affairs in the city when our only hope for fairness is the self interests of council members up for reelection.

While Suffolk has had another good year as described by Mayor Ralph, many of her citizens are suffering the riches of rising assessments that make them poorer due to an ever-growing tax burden.

Roger Leonard lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at