City gets budget input

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Residents at a public input meeting on the city budget Tuesday night expressed concerns about street lighting, funding of outside organizations, public schools and more.

Another such meeting will be held today at 2 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 441 Market St.

Resident Roger Leonard expressed his concerns about money being given to outside nonprofit organizations that do not provide services directly to the residents of Suffolk. Leonard would like to see the city adopt a “Suffolk-first” policy for money given to nonprofits, he said.

“This year is going to be very difficult and very tight,” Leonard said, adding the city should “focus your macroeconomic effort on serving the people of Suffolk first.”

Leonard, who lives in the southern part of the city, also expressed concern about street lighting — something that’s rare in the southern half of Suffolk.

Thieves have gotten bold enough to steal the gravel from his driveway and break into his buildings, Leonard said, noting that revisiting the city’s streetlight policy could deter crime and lower police costs.

First Town Civic League president Carry Holmes also requested more streetlights for the downtown area during the meeting.

“It would look more appealing, I think, to have a more uniform lighting system,” Holmes said, noting that some downtown residential streets, such as Pine Street, have little lighting, while others, like Finney Avenue, have plenty.

Holmes also expressed concern about the school system, saying two families in First Town’s area — the downtown core — already are homeschooling and two others are considering doing so.

“Schools are a big issue for us,” Holmes said. “They seem to be in such disarray that [families] are opting out.”

Doug Ward, who represented the Nansemond-Suffolk Rescue Squad at the meeting, requested a shift in the way the city’s $100,000 donation to the rescue squad is handled.

For years, the rescue squad has requested the money to cover six months’ worth of expenses. By Ward’s calculation, having the volunteers saves the city at least $800,000 each year on ambulances, salaries for paid personnel, and other expenses.

In previous years, the money was included as a line item in the fire department’s budget. This year, however, the rescue squad received only half the money, and had to borrow the other half. Repeated calls to the fire department have not elicited the other half of the money, even though it was budgeted, Ward said.

Ward therefore requested to be removed from the fire department’s budget and be treated as other nonprofits, such as the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society and the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia, who receive money through a budget process.

“We can save a tremendous amount of money” just by receiving the $100,000, Ward said.