Council considers budget at session

Published 10:15 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2009

City Council members talked about bulk trash disposal, utility rates, contributions to nonprofit organizations and more during their budget work session Wednesday evening.

Bulk trash disposal, a service that was previously provided for free, will cost $20 or $50, depending on the amount of trash, if the budget is passed as is. Not charging the fees will leave a $616,000 hole in the budget, the equivalent of about 14 employees.

“If we don’t do this, how do we make that up?” Councilman Charles Parr asked.

Email newsletter signup

“Positions – or other sources…” was the response from City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn.

Other cities in the area currently charge fees ranging from $17 to $32 per month for regular trash disposal and bulk disposal combined. Virginia Beach is considering adding an $8 monthly charge.

To pay the proposed fee, residents needing bulk collection would have to pay the city treasurer’s office at least three days before their pickup is scheduled, according to a plan proposed by Public Works Director Eric Nielsen. Some council members, however, expressed concern that many residents would not know about the new fees, and would leave bulk trash on the curb for pickup without paying the fee. Councilman Rob Barclay suggested putting a notice in residents’ tax bills regarding the new fees, if the budget is passed as is.

The utility rates are proposed to rise $1.02 per 100 cubic feet for water, and 90 cents per 100 cubic feet for sewer. The increases are needed because the utility fund must be self-sustaining – officials cannot take money from the general fund to cover utility department needs. The number of residential units needing service has dropped drastically in the last few years, meaning the rates must be increased to balance the fund’s budget, according to city officials.

“They’re not palatable, we all know that, but they are what they are,” said Mayor Linda T. Johnson.

Public Utilities Director Albert Moor said that it is possible the rates could go down at some point in the future, when the economy picks up.

For contributions to nonprofit organizations, city staff has proposed a pot of money – $225,000 – to be distributed among 32 organizations. They include the Suffolk Nansemond Historic Society, Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, The Genieve Shelter, Riddick’s Folly and Suffolk Festivals, Inc. (the group that puts on Peanut Fest). Cuffee-Glenn said she will make decisions on how much money each group gets after the budget is passed. If all the money were distributed equally, each group would get about $7,000. The groups have asked for amounts ranging from $1,000 to $100,000.

Cuffee-Glenn said she did not think the proposed system violated principles of open government, and added it was done that way at another jurisdiction where she has worked previously.