Council approves #036;312.7 million approved

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 2, 2005

City taxpayers will be keeping a few extra dollars in hand this year.

With a 5 to 2 vote, the Suffolk City Council on Wednesday adopted a $312.7 million operating budget for 2006 that reduces the city’s current $1.08 base real estate tax rate by 2 cents.

Two weeks ago, the council adopted the school division’s portion of the budget – $123 million. That includes $38.7 million in local funds, a 14 percent increase over last year’s allocation.

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The budget also gives city employees an average 4 percent pay raise and $1.6 million to bring the pay scales of public safety employees closer to the levels paid by neighboring Hampton Roads localities.

Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson and Councilman Curtis R. Milteer Sr., who has steadfastly pushed for a 5 cent tax cut, voted against the proposed budget.

In a separate vote, they, along with Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, also opposed the 2 cent reduction.

&uot;I support education, public safety and our employees to the hilt,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;…I cannot support this budget because it is not for the average working person that lives in the city.&uot;

Ultimately, Bennett voted in favor of the budget, saying it funded his top priorities of education and public safety.

&uot;But I still think we could have reduced the tax rate lower,&uot; said Bennett. He expressed frustration at never having received requested information showing the impact a 5 cent tax cut would have had on the budget.

Johnson agreed.

&uot;I’m disappointed in the process from beginning to end,&uot; said Johnson.

But council members who supported the budget said a further reduction would have cut into the growing city’s ability to fund priorities set forth by the council.

&uot;I am not willing to cut taxes and have to come back in two years to raise taxes to keep up with education and other needs within the city,&uot; said Councilman Charles F. Brown.