Taxpayers snub budget writers

Published 10:36 pm Monday, April 13, 2009

What happens if you hold an informational meeting on the budget and nobody attends?

In the case of Suffolk Budget Officer Anne Seward, you wait for a while — PowerPoint presentation at the ready — chat with a city councilman and city employees who are on hand to help answer the questions that it turns out nobody has, and then you hold an impromptu press conference for the reporters who turned up to cover the non-event.

Looking across the audience area of council chambers on Monday night, Seward found no one in the room who wasn’t either on the city’s payroll or a member of the media.

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“In government, that’s an indication that you’re doing right,” she quipped.

Monday’s meeting was to have provided the only opportunity for Suffolk citizens to get a detailed explanation of the city’s budget from one of the people most directly involved in drafting it.

Seward said the poor economy might have contributed to this year’s lack of interest in the budget presentation. With no extra money to spend this year, the reasoning goes, there is less room for budget proposals to cause problems.

“Typically, there has to be something there to move and shake in order to have a discussion on how to move and shake it,” she said. “What’s important is that we’re here, we’re listening.”

Even property assessments haven’t been a major point of contention with taxpayers this year, City Councilman Charles Parr said, noting that most of the few calls he’d received on the topic had been from people wondering why the assessed value of their properties had fallen since last year.

The budget documents remain available for review online at In addition, they may be reviewed in person at the municipal building, city libraries, fire stations, the Chamber of Commerce, Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Suffolk Executive Airport and the Crittenden Sunoco station.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget during its 7 p.m. meeting on Wednesday. Despite the fact that the public was a no-show on Monday, Seward was wary of making any predictions about the public hearing.

The $450-million 2009-2010 proposed spending plan includes no tax increase, but it does rely on new and increased fees to achieve balance. Residents who have bulk trash to dispose of would have to pay either $20 or $50, depending on the volume of that trash. Also, there would be new fees for nonprofit organizations that use Suffolk facilities, and water and sewer rates would rise.