Eight speak out on budget

Published 11:10 pm Thursday, April 16, 2009

Eight people emerged from a standing-room-only crowd in Suffolk City Council chambers Wednesday night to speak out on the city’s proposed budget.

About a dozen people lined the back walls of the room during the public hearing, while more than 120 people occupied benches in the chambers and more waited outside in the hallway. Many of those, however, were on hand in reference to other matters.

Some of the eight speakers lamented the proposed increased water and sewer rates, new fees for bulk trash pickup and funding for nonprofit organizations. Others pleaded for provisions to fill the ditches in their neighborhoods, which they say are a safety hazard and a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

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Several who spoke about the bulk trash fees said those fees would created an undue burden on residents, and would produce increased roadside dumping and keeping of trash in yards.

“We’ll experience increased roadside dumping throughout the city,” said William Goodman, president of the East Suffolk Gardens Civic League and a Planning Commission member. “This is a bad time to attach a fee of this nature on our local citizens and our city. We would like you to take another look at this and see if there is a better way.”

Resident Paul Gillis said the fee burdens Suffolk taxpayers.

“Let’s not put this bulk pickup fee on the backs of the seniors and people who are least able to afford it,” Gillis said.

Former Suffolk mayor Andy Damiani and resident Robert White complained about the proposal to increase water and sewer rates.

“You have put a tax burden on a small amount of people,” Damiani said.

Linda Bunch, representing the Suffolk Fine Arts Commission, expressed concern about the process of giving money to nonprofit organizations, including the fine arts organization. The process proposed by City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn is that a pot of money will be approved during the budget process, which will be allocated administratively after the budget is approved.

“It seems to go against this council’s positions on openness and transparency,” Bunch said, highlighting the need for the artistic skills of creativity and problem-solving in today’s workplace.

Robert Wilkin and Eleanor Clark requested funding to fill ditches in southern Suffolk neighborhoods.

“Please try to help with this situation,” said Wilkin, who lives in the Jericho neighborhood. “This is a community that’s been overlooked for years and years.”

Following the public hearing, council members suggested solutions to the problems presented by the budget.

Councilman Leroy Bennett suggested that bulk refuse collection be done on a designated day, once a month, for each borough, which could save money, he said.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said that the solution to the bulk refuse problem is neighborliness. If someone has a pickup truck and sees that a neighbor needs help hauling things to the dump, they should help, she said.

“I just have more faith in the people of Suffolk than that.”

Council members also said that some pieces of bulk trash, such as cardboard boxes and yard waste, could be consolidated into the regular trash cans.

Regarding the nonprofit contributions, Bennett said council should have the opportunity to approve the allocations that are made after the budget process.

“I think we should have the right to look at it,” he said.

The increased water and sewer rates are necessary because of a $7.8-million drop in revenue over the year, city officials have said.