City gets depressing budget picture

Published 11:17 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

City Council members got a grim picture Thursday night of how the statewide budget cuts will affect Suffolk.

During the council retreat, Budget Officer Anne Seward gave council members an overview of how the state budget shortfall might affect Suffolk. Some expected effects already are known, but some remain to be seen, Seward said.

Virginia is working under a $2.9 billion shortfall for the 2008-2010 budget years. Gov. Tim Kaine’s budget plan includes a $400 million withdrawal from the State Revenue Stabilization Fund, a proposed 30-cents-per-pack increase on the cigarette tax, and the elimination of more than 1,800 statewide positions.

Email newsletter signup

What Suffolk officials know so far about the reductions is slim, but they do know they should prepare for anything, Seward said.

City departments have been asked to create plans to reduce their budgets by 3, 5 and 10 percent. They also were told to separate their services into those that are mandated by state, local or federal law; those that are essential to the day-to-day operation of the city; and those that are supportive in nature. Officials will look to the supportive services first when deciding what to cut, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said.

Department heads are being asked to come up with “creative” ways to cut expenses, Seward said.

“Creativity is what we’re trying to spur, and I’ve heard some good ideas,” she said.

The impact officials are trying to soften is potentially huge.

Suffolk has lost all of its annual road construction funds, a hit of about $4 million.

In the education realm, K-12 schools have seen a $55.7 million reduction in state sales tax revenue statewide. Also, the money localities used to receive for salary increases for teachers is gone in fiscal year 2010, and school construction funds to the tune of more than $1 million annually are lost, as well.

For transportation, $12 million over the two years for railroad crossings in Suffolk has been eliminated. The state plan also calls for a delay in the Nansemond Parkway/Shoulders Hill Road intersection improvement project.

Statewide, sheriffs, commonwealth’s attorneys, commissioners of the revenue, treasurers and clerks of courts all will suffer reductions.

About $14 million in cuts are proposed for various economic development programs statewide.

In Suffolk, about 42 percent of the revenue for citywide services (not including capital projects and the utility fund) comes from the state. A similar amount comes from local taxes, and federal money and various fees make up about 14 percent of the budget.

The potential budget reductions were a discussion item at the retreat, meaning no action was taken. However, several council members pledged to be on high alert for news out of Richmond concerning the impact of the cuts.