Tax reduction on the table

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Despite some calls for a larger cut, the Suffolk City Council agreed Monday to shear 2 cents per $100 off the city’s real estate tax rate to provide additional relief from soaring property assessments.

City Manager R. Steven Herbert’s proposed $314.5 million budget will have to slashed by $1.2 million to accommodate the cut, said the city’s Finance Director M. Christine Ledford, during the council’s budget work session.

&uot;We tried to avoid cutting into the operating budget,&uot; said Herbert. &uot;These things…we can cut without affecting services to citizens.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Herbert’s recommended cuts include:

n$350,000 from the Suffolk School Board’s recommended $700,000 allocation to start up a new daytime alternative school. A 50 percent funding reduction would allow the program to start in January 2006 and would signal the council’s commitment for future funding, said Ledford.

-$300,000 from a Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing program. The money is earmarked for road improvements to Shoulders Hill Road, part of a planned $26 million project in the city’s future.

-$300,000 of the $500,000 recommended to buy software for the city’s assessor’s office. The city would still move forward with the project, probably through a lease-purchase agreement, Ledford said.

-$150,000 allocated for funding new positions in the North Suffolk Public Library, slated to open in the summer of 2006.

Reducing the positions could delay the library’s opening by as long as three months, Ledford said.

-$100,000 from the recommended $300,000 to fund property acquisition for the Fairgrounds redevelopment project.

The reduction would take the real estate tax rate from $1.08 to $1.06 per $100 of assessed value.

In contrast, assessments rose an average 17 percent this year.

Councilman Curtis R. Milteer Sr., who has aggressively pushed for a 4-cent tax break, doesn’t believe two pennies will provide much relief.

&uot;I personally believe this amount is inefficient,&uot; Milteer said.

&uot;It’s better than nothing but it’s almost nothing. We need to be more fair and firm with the budget for our citizens.&uot;

Milteer and Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson supported looking at an across-the-board cut, and having department heads make the cuts in their respective departments.

&uot;&uot;When you ask for an across-the-board cut, you’re not in anybody’s back yard,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;You’re in everybody’s backyard.&uot;

Several council members were upset not to have been consulted by Herbert’s staff during the process of making the reductions.

&uot;I’m not happy with the process tonight,&uot; Johnson said.

&uot;There are seven of us who vote equally…but seven people are not getting equal time and respect.&uot;

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett had similar sentiments.

&uot;No one called me for my opinion…and others got to offer their opinions,&uot; he said.

&uot;People were left out of the process.&uot;