Just wait until next year

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 9, 2005

That was the lament of most Council members, not all, who now realize they were out-maneuvered by two very adept city employees…the manager and finance director. I haven’t seen such fancy footwork since the days of Cassius Clay. They told no lies or used false numbers; they just danced around the areas where serious budget cuts could be made and convinced council it was the very, very best they could do without seriously damaging the empire and bringing chaos to the streets. The five-cent budget reduction of the tax rate never showed up at the picnic. I commend them, the two city officials, and knew they would be victorious. The two-cent gift to council members was akin to a fish losing a few scales. Council’s constituents were skinned, and should be up in arms but will vote the same way next time and there will be no Council changes.

Both Milteer and Johnson were quick to pick up the scent and bold enough to point out the skunk, but time was against them. Bennett and Brown picked up on the plot much too late and mumbled feeble attempts to join with the reform group that will approach the budget much differently (they say) next time around. It sounded like they were thinking about taking charge, exercising their prerogative as representatives of the people that put ’em in there. Maybe a bit more &uot;telling&uot; and a lot less &uot;asking.&uot;

Johnson said it perfectly, &uot;If assessments hadn’t gone up dramatically you would be finding lots of ways to cut the budget.&uot; That’s a &uot;nail on the head&uot; statement. She could have added, &uot;or increase the debt service account.&uot; What was that number; did I hear correctly that it now takes $18 million each year to handle debt payments? I suppose whatever it is it’s considered a piddling amount and just a normal part of doing business. Like people who get over-extended with the plastic and face bankruptcy.

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Is some of this a benefit of the Hilton and Cultural Center capers? We keep hearing how good our credit rating is.

One of Linda’s questions can be answered right now. No, assessments never go down. For some reason the value of homes don’t unless the building is falling apart. But the property tax rate can go down and should have this year. Linda should keep asking, &uot;What, Mr. Herbert, would you have done if the assessments didn’t go up 22 percent? He could only answer by saying they would have had to raise the tax rate. Again, would they have found budget cuts or dare to raise that rate even when the homeowners were already pinched? And how would council have dealt with that?

Roger Leonard has suggested that some or all of council members should be &uot;evicted.&uot; I suggest a few could resign. I like Mr. Jones personally but he appears to be so steeped in Dr. Liverman’s tea I wonder if he should be serving on Council. If he could not see the fixable weaknesses in the school system close up as a school board member, how can he see them from a distance? I can imagine even Dr. Liverman admitting one day to internal problems but being in no position to change anything, blaming everything on NEA and the State. Other council members keep repeating that education is their top priority and will fund school budgets come hell or high water. But when will they begin to look for the leaks in the school system? Do they, like too many others, measure progress by slight improvements in the SOL scores and graduation rates? Ask why do so many concerned parents that can or cannot afford it, send their kids elsewhere?

These are fair questions and deserve answers. Like this one, hinted at by Linda, &uot;What happens next year when we get another big fat assessment increase? I suppose everyone in schools and city government will just get another raise while homeowners get another shafting. Many citizens shudder at the prospect of the coming complex over in Driver. Who and how does that get funded? There’s a job for our Communications Director. Is this to be another &uot;centerpiece?&uot; Council should be having regular meetings starting next week on next year’s budget. Then they won’t be surprised or outwitted by you know who. And, Council, can’t you find a way to skim developers for impact fees?


What if there was a building in Suffolk owned by the city, assessed about $700,000 but had never been appraised? What if the city decided to unload it and let favored persons bid on it resulting in a bid under $200,000 that got the nod? And what if that building might be worth a million or so after the Cultural Center is up and running? Granted, there might be some asbestos to be removed but a half million dollars worth? And was it our brave Councilwoman that exposed and stymied the Jefferson School deal?


I don’t know about you but I am getting a little bored with photos of the same people cutting ribbons. Council let us down on tax cutting and should not be considered celebrities any more than ordinary citizens who provide their share of tax dollars. Let John Q. Public handle the celebratory scissors. John Q. is seldom rewarded, and no pictures ever taken.

Robert Pocklington is a regular columnist for the News-Herald. E-mail him at robert.pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com