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Council#8217;s #8220;wish list#8221; off to Richmond

Last night Suffolk City Council approved 6-1,

its “wish list,” so to speak, of legislative items to send to the 2007 General Assembly.

Included in the package are two charter changes. The first would allow for the direct election of the mayor, starting with the May 2008 elections.

The amendment calls for Suffolk City Council to increase one seat, from seven members to eight n one from each borough plus one chosen as mayor in a city-wide election. The winning candidate would need the most votes citywide, as well as in at least four of the city’s seven boroughs. The mayoral term would be for four years.

The second charter change would allow for referenda, non-binding elections, wherein city residents could offer their opinions on issues facing council either at the solicitation of council, or if at least 10 percent of qualified voters who voted in the last general election submit a petition to do so.

The charter changes have to be approved by the General Assembly, the state attorney general’s office and the U.S. Justice Department before it will go into effect.

The top budget priority in the package is a Human Services Building to house the Suffolk Department of Health because its current location, built in 1952, “has reached a critical stage.” The building is smaller than required by Department of General Services Guidelines, has recurrent water leaks and other problems. Because insufficient lease space is available downtown, a new building needs to be constructed.

Martha McClees, intergovernmental affairs coordinator for the city, said, “We’re hopeful (funding for a new building will) be included in the governor’s package.”

Other items in Suffolk’s legislative agenda include:

n Suffolk Museum of African-American History n the city is requesting authorization for a $400,000 appropriation through the State’s Historic Preservation Grant program for the restoration of the Phoenix Bank of the Nansemond building.

n Real Estate Tax Cap or Exemptions n administration of this tax has been at the sole discretion of local government since 1926, and because it represents nearly 50 percent of Suffolk’s total revenues, the city has taken the position that the General Assembly should provide a refundable income tax credit for either a percentage of property taxes paid or for property tax payments exceeding a certain income level instead of imposing a real estate cap.

n Impact Fees n The city still is advocating that the GA should give local governments the option of levying an impact fee on new developments to pay for all or part of the cost of road improvements in relation to the development.

n Kings Highway Bridge n the city asks that the GA direct funding into the current biennial budge through the dedicated bridge replacement fund sufficient to complete construction of the realignment and replacement of the bridge.

Council decided to plan a dinner this month to meet with local legislators to discuss the key parts of the city’s legislative package.

Councilman Leroy Bennett voted against approval of the legislative package only because he opposed specifying a date for the mayoral election. “I didn’t want to tie our hands saying you have to do it in May.”

In other news:

n Bennett, in his closing comments, asked about the status of the many questions raised in the city’s independent financial analysis. City Manager Jim Vacalis said the city staff is working on them now and could have some answers in the next day or so.

Bennett said he also is concerned about how much the city was spending on the services of Davenport and Co. LLC, the Richmond-based company hired to do the analysis. He wondered how much had been spent so far, citing a figure of $225 an hour for the services, and how much they are willing to spend.

Vacalis said they are working with the city attorney, Ed Roettger, on that, but Mayor Johnson, in her comments, said, “As long as I’m sitting here, there will be no blank checks.”

n Council voted unanimously to cancel the Dec.6 regular meeting because Councilmen Brown and Bennett will be attending the National League of Cities annual business meeting.

n Councilman Milteer announced that there will be a meeting for residents of Hall Place in council chambers Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. to discuss the future of the community. All people who live in that area are encouraged to attend.

ashley.taylor@suffolknewsherald.com