Look elsewhere for savings

Published 9:15 pm Friday, April 3, 2009

The preparers of Suffolk’s annual operating budget have spent countless hours working through various scenarios to shore up what the budget office expects to be a $9.3 million shortfall. Needless to say, developing a budget in such a time is not an easy task.

The initial proposal to council members this week illustrated a blend of good and not-so-good news. The good news is the budget doesn’t include increases in the property tax rate. However, there are a number of new and increased fees that would help balance the spending plan. If the budget is approved residents will have to pay more for water and sewer service, bulk refuse collection and even some facility rentals.

Current economic conditions dictate massive reductions and out-of-the-box thinking in preparing a budget the magnitude of which the city operates under. Some might argue that not eliminating city positions, continuing a hiring freeze and withdrawing annual pay increases is the best possible scenario for the city, all of which are being proposed. There are 1,278 positions in the current year budget and there are 1,282 positions proposed in next year’s budget. To be fair, the city has 15.7 employees per 1,000 citizens, the second lowest in Hampton Roads.


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However, by the city not reducing staff or cutting more internal costs, services for residents are being cut, unless residents are willing to pay. That seems like a backward approach. Rather than cutting services to taxpaying residents, the city owes it to taxpayers to go back and make sure that all the fat has been trimmed. Whether that trimming comes in the way of staff reductions, less giving to non-profit organizations or basic internal controls, the end result would be far better than charging a resident to pick up their bulk waste.

The services-for-fees proposal doesn’t seem to be the best solution. In fact, there are a plethora of areas that affect a minimal number of residents that can be cut or reduced. Doing so is a better solution than putting the burden of the city’s shortfall on the entire city. Many citizens are barely making ends meet, and to pay more for water and sewer while there are a number of highly paid, arguably duplicative positions in the city just isn’t fair.

The City Council is nave if it doesn’t believe there are savings hidden within the hundreds of pages of the city’s proposed budget.