Public support grows for proposed budget

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 6, 2005

Despite soaring real estate assessments, few residents called for cuts to the City Manager R. Steven Herbert’s proposed $314.5 million operating budget at Wednesday’s public hearing.

Most of the 30 speakers who addressed city lawmakers supported Herbert’s recommendation to keep the real estate tax rate at $1.08 per $100 of existing value.

&uot;It is the best deal in Hampton Roads,&uot; said downtown developer Mickey Garcia. &uot;Suffolk is ripe and it is time we prosper around here. We need the money,…we are a growing city.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

The increased revenue is critical to helping fund the city’s ongoing capital projects – the Fairgrounds revitalization and a library and school under construction in north Suffolk – and to maintaining quality of life for residents.

Herbert’s proposed budget earmarks $39.1 million for schools, about 15 percent more than the system currently receives. The amount includes funding to give teachers a 6 percent pay raise, operate an alternative school and expand the Head Start program.

The budget also includes average 4 percent pay raises for other city employees, $1.2 million to pay state-mandated overtime to police and firefighters, approximately $1.5 million to raise firefighter and police pay to the levels of neighboring cities, and $300,000 for the Fairgrounds project.

&uot;With the student population growing at a record pace, we need at least one school under construction on an annual basis just to keep up,&uot; said school board member Billy Hill. &uot;The needs and expectations of the community have changed.

&uot;You have challenged the School Board to move the school system to the next level. We are beginning to make progress …and we need the money to do that.&uot;

Several members of the Fairgrounds committee said the additional funding is vital to moving ahead with the project.

&uot;This increase will enable us to keep moving forward with the Fairgrounds,&uot; said William Goodman. &uot;We are acquiring property and closing on property. We have to have the necessary funding to be able to do that.

&uot;We are a growing city…and it takes money to do that and provide the services we have to have.&uot;

Whaleyville businessman Roger Leonard called on council members to push Herbert to make budget cuts.

&uot;If the city manager cannot find 1 or 2 percent of fat in a bloated budget, there is a problem,&uot; he said. &uot;Many of the downtown musketeers up here tonight all wanted something from you.

&uot;The silent majority of us have to pay those bills and reach a little deeper in our pockets to come up with the extra money. A 1 percent cut from the budget will do the nickel that (Councilman) Curtis (Milteer) is talking about.&uot;

Although council members overwhelmingly supported funding increases proposed for schools and public safety, several said they believe the city needs to find ways to give citizens a break.

&uot;There are people out here who can’t get a dime of tax relief…they fall through the cracks,&uot; Milteer said. &uot;I think it’s time to make adjustments in the rates.

&uot;For the last 20 years, we have been taking and taking and giving nothing back.&uot;

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said he would like to see a 2 percent reduction in the tax rate.

&uot;I think we need to be fair to the people of the city,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to look at what services would be jeopardized if we reduce the rate.&uot;

The council is holding a budget work session at 7 p.m. May 16.

The budget could be approved as early as the May 18 council meeting.