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Council to talk taxes Wednesday

Allison T. Williams

Residents can have their say about the city’s proposed record-breaking 28 percent jump in residential real estate assessments this week.

The Suffolk City Council will have a public hearing on the city’s real property tax increase through assessments during its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The public hearing will come on the heels of local lawmakers getting their first look at City Manager R. Steven Herbert’s proposed 2006-07 operating budget during Wednesday’s 4 p.m. work session. Both meetings will be held in the Municipal Building, at 441 Market St.

Details on the budget were not available. But last month, council members directed Herbert to prepare his recommended budget and one that reduces the city’s current base real estate tax rate by 15 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The city’s current base tax rate is of $1.06 per $100 of property value.

According to an advertisement for the public hearing, the city could cut the base tax rate to 85 cents per $100 of assessed real estate and bring in the same level of tax revenue it is bringing in now. State law requires the city to publish that rate.

With the average 28 percent residential and 22 percent commercial property assessment rate hikes, the taxable value of all property in Suffolk is $7.3 billion, according to information provided by City Assessor Maria Kattmann. That’s up from $5.4 billion last year.

Some homeowners saw particularly dramatic hikes in assessments, which are driven by the property sales in neighborhoods. The biggest were in the poorer downtown communities of Saratoga and Lloyd Place, where they jumped an average of 96 and 82 percent respectively.

Councilman Curtis Milteer, who represents citizens in those communities, is hopeful people will take time to offer their input.

“People need to come, express their concerns and communicate with their elected officials,” he said. “They need to tell us what they think.”

Although the council seems in consensus that taxpayers can expect some sort of cut in the mill rate next year, the question of how much remains to be determined.

Milteer is pushing for lawmakers to shear at least 16 cents, which would lower the tax rate to 90 cents per $100 of assessed property.

“That would offset about 60 percent of the increase,” he said. “It would leave the city with $5 million in new money …which means no cuts to the budget would be required.

“Somewhere along the line, we have to begin living within our means. We can’t continue buying champagne with Coca-Cola money, because sooner or later, the economy will level off.”

Both Mayor Bobby Ralph and Councilman Calvin Jones declined to comment on the impact of possible tax rate cuts, saying they first needed to see a copy of the manager’s budget.

“If there is a significant cut in tax rate, a lot of things could be touched,” Jones said. “I want to wait and see his proposal before I start offering comments.”

Ralph agreed, adding that the city needs to stay on its progressive course.

“A substantial tax rate reduction is in order … but it’s important that citizens understand what the tax rate will produce and how a cut in revenue could impact services. I can support whatever citizens are comfortable with.”

Allison.williams@suffolknewsherald.com