• 66°

Residents demand a tax cut

Allison T. Williams

How do you spell relief?

More than two dozen of the 31 residents who spoke during the public hearing at Wednesday’s Suffolk City Council meeting had the same answer: T-a-x c-u-t.

Residential real estate assessments surged an average 28 percent this year, the highest in the city’s history and one of the highest ever in Hampton Roads.

Citizens, during a public hearing on the assessments, urged city leaders to compensate for the high assessments with a significant shearing of the tax rate.

“The tax rate is going out of sight,” said John McLaughlin. “People are having to decide whether to pay taxes or feed their children.”

Rose Heffington, who used a walker to maneuver her way to the podium, said the assessment on her small brick ranch on U.S. 58 jumped 450 percent last year. After questioning the assessor, she learned her assessment climbed from around $85,000 to $397,000 because the 7-Eleven Corp. purchased two acres nearby.

“Why should we be overtaxed because someone down the road bought land? We just want to live our few remaining years on our own land.”

Several people said recent assessment increases may convince long-time residents of the state’s fastest-growing city to move.

“Give us a break,” said Norman Fletcher, who recently moved to Suffolk from Ohio. “When a person has worked hard all of his life, he deserves a break.”

Frank Brown, along with a couple of other people, said he wasn’t opposed to the increased assessment of his Riverfront home.

“I like the fact that my assessment is in line with the appraised value of my home,” he said. But he implored council to keep its spending in check and to grow the city at a slow, steady pace.

“Otherwise, you are encumbering future generations to the death grip of debt,” he said.

Manning Road resident William Harward called for a tax reduction of at least 20 cents.

“That makes sense to me. I have no intention of getting a second job to pay my taxes.”

Apparently, it made sense to some council members too.

Earlier in the day, the council had directed City Manager Steve Herbert to trim at least another $6 million off his proposed $375.9 million operating budget. His proposed spending plan called for cutting 7 cents off the current rate of $1.06 per $100 of assessed property.

Several council members were disappointed by Herbert’s presentation, saying they were expecting to see a budget that left mill rate at its current level and another reflecting a 15 cent cut in the tax rate.

City leaders are expecting to see a revised version of the budget during their next meeting on May 3.

allison.williams@suffolknewsherald.com