Businessman taking City Hall fight to state leaders

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The Suffolk City Council’s recent action cutting the city’s real estate tax by 2 cents just whetted the appetite of Whaleyville business owner Roger Leonard.

A frequent council critic, Leonard last week gathered more than 1,000 signatures on petitions asking the state to intervene in soaring real estate tax rates statewide.

Leonard is proposing that localities across Virginia be required by law to reduce their mil rates by the same percentage as they raise their assessments annually.

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&uot;We want the mil rate lowered enough that assessment increases becomes revenue neutral,&uot; said Leonard.

Any tax increases should be subjected to a public hearing and should not exceed the current rate of inflation, Leonard said.

Although the petitions can be found in a few convenience stores citywide, nearly 45 people in Suffolk and Chesapeake are circulating the petitions to friends and family members, Leonard said.

Because the petitions are for statewide submission, any registered voter in Virginia is eligible to sign them, he added.

&uot;This is not just a Suffolk effort,&uot; said Leonard.

Leonard estimated that 97 percent of people asked for support sign off on the petitions.

&uot;Participation is pretty amazing,&uot; said Leonard. &uot;It shows that people are interested in this issue.

&uot;When people see the petition, they are asking for copies to pass out among their friends.&uot;

Leonard and other groups statewide with similar proposals are planning to submit their petitions to state lawmakers prior to the 2006 General Assembly session next January.

While he dislikes taking the issue to the state, Leonard said he feels it is the only remaining avenue for change.

&uot;I would rather leave it up to the city to do the right thing,&uot; said Leonard. &uot;But given the fact that little has occurred with the City Council, this seems to be the only way to get a fair shake.

&uot;I would have liked the city to step forward and do the right thing…a nickel or 8 cents would have been reasonable,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to ask the state to intervene and bring fairness to the process.&uot;

Local government should be better able to handle its issues than state government, said Councilman Curtis Milteer Sr., who was steadfast in his push for a minimum 5 cent reduction in the tax rate.

&uot;I think the local government could address the situation much quicker than the General Assembly,&uot; said Milteer. &uot;But if the local government is not responding, they are within their local rights.

&uot;If the group has tried the local government, the next step is the General Assembly.&uot;

For more information about the petition campaign, call Leonard at 681-0766.