The right thing to do

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

Is it just me or did anyone else notice that the sky seemed somehow bluer, the grass greener and the air sweeter Wednesday morning in our fair city?

I could have sworn when I went out at lunchtime to deliver my Meals on Wheels route I saw people walking downtown with little, animated blue jays chirping on their shoulders and bunny rabbits and other adorable, cuddly woodland creatures frolicking around them in a circle.

Also, I hope Councilman Barlow had the manners to send flowers Wednesday morning to Mary Hill. What she did is as at least deserving of a planning commission or Industrial Development Authority appointment. She earned it.

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Enough of that. I’ve had my fun. Tuesday’s election is behind us. Yes, it was interesting, entertaining and enlightening, but the real question facing the residents of Suffolk is what happens now?

It’s a good question.

Out of the 5,201 people who voted in the contested City Council races Tuesday, 3,009 of them, nearly 60 percent, voted against the incumbents. Remember that President Bush claimed a mandate with 51 percent of the vote in 2004. If that’s a mandate, what happened Tuesday in Suffolk is a landslide of biblical proportions and an utter repudiation of this city’s leadership. I take no joy (at least not much) in stating that. It’s just a fact.

The big issue, of course, was the tax rate. The 7-cent reduction in the mill rate proposed by the city manager (or an average 20 percent increase in real estate taxes for you and me) was just too much for the people to take on the heels of other double digit increases in recent years. And with gasoline at $3 gallon … well, you know what happened. It was a perfect storm of fiscal issues for the challengers to exploit.

So now, this City Council that people said on Tuesday they no longer trust to lead the city, is going to be allowed to set the tax rate and adopt a budget?

Baloney. They shouldn’t be allowed to touch the 06-07 spending plan with a 10-foot pole.

The honorable thing for someone so roundly thrashed at the polls to do would be to either vote to reduce the mill rate by 20 cents, delay setting the tax rate entirely until the new Council is seated in July, or resign immediately. Delaying may not be an option because of some obscure city code I know nothing about, but the other two options are certainly viable.

Council should direct the city manager to prepare a budget that reflects the mill rate and the spending the people want. And if he’s willing to do that this time, take time to digest it and act on it as early as possible in July.

This would give us time to more closely examine what is being spent. Perhaps representatives of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, for example, would be willing to come before council and the public and explain why the already over-burdened taxpayers should want to cough up a million bucks to operate the center when they promised all along it would not be necessary? And I’m not talking about citing some obscure study from the International Mime Institute that tells how dandy an arts program is for a community, but hard, solid dollars and cents projections of when citizens will realize the payback.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to pick on the arts center or the people associated with it — God bless them. They’ve worked hard and done a fine job starting from nothing and personally I think it is a good investment.

But that seems to have been one of the problems with the way this city has operated and what voters rebelled against Tuesday. It seems like whenever someone wants something, whether it’s a swank place to have parties and entertain their favored supporters even if it means gambling with $18 million of the people’s assets, or seizing and destroying private property in violation of a court order, they just do it, to heck with the consequences. Nothing ever seems to be fully justified and nobody ever seems to be held fully accountable (at least until Tuesday night).

If I have one wish for Suffolk’s new City Council it’s that they see to it the city stops doing business that way.

Surely there exists some mechanism for the city council to provide emergency funding to keep the city afloat until the new council is seated and can craft the spending plan the citizens said on Tuesday they want. The federal and state governments do it all the time. It’s the right thing to do.

Prutsok is publisher of the News-Herald. Reach him at 934-9611 or at