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Council sees $460 million budget

The city’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year includes no real estate tax increase, no layoffs of or raises for city staff, no reduction of services and full funding of the school budget request, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said Wednesday.

However, utility customers will pay an extra $1.62 per 100 cubic feet for water and sewer rates combined, and the full funding for the schools is dependent upon a proposed refinancing saving the city at least $1 million.

The city manager presented her proposed $459.72 million budget to City Council members in a work session Wednesday. It is available for the public to download in PDF form from the city’s Web site, www.suffolk.va.us, and also can be viewed at the municipal building, 441 Market St., and at city libraries.

City staff closed a shortfall of about $5 million to balance the budget without raising taxes, budget officer Anne Seward said. The gap included decreases in state and federal aid, as well as in local real estate revenues, in addition to increased governmental responsibilities, such as operating newly opened buildings.

Had the city closed the budget gap with layoffs alone, about 117 full-time employees would have lost their jobs.

“I think we’ve done a tremendous job,” Cuffee-Glenn said.

Council members agreed during their Wednesday work session.

“I think everybody in Suffolk will rest easier after hearing this news tonight,” Councilman Jeffrey Gardy said.

Fifty percent of the overall budget, excluding the capital and utility funds, will go toward Suffolk Public Schools. Only a third of local dollars will be spent on education.

Increased service requirements include an additional $1.6 million in funding for the regional jail, an additional $700,000 to create a new information technology department, and $340,000 for the new North Suffolk Neighborhood Enforcement Team.

Savings in the budget were realized by incorporating suggestions from city staff, Seward said. One such suggestion, picking up trash only four days each week instead of five, is projected to save about $210,000. People who currently receive curbside trash pickup will not lose it, but could see their scheduled pickup move to a different day.

Public Works director Eric Nielsen recommended that Monday be eliminated from the trash pickup schedule, because holidays most frequently fall on that day and it would result in three consecutive days of the building being shut down, saving on operational costs.

The new policy also would result in fewer trips to the landfill and less overtime, because employees would not have to work on Saturday when there is a Monday holiday.

Other savings in the general fund would come from debt refinancing, deferring capital projects and new positions, freezing vacant positions and freezing “non-critical” employee benefits like tuition reimbursement and take-home vehicles.

The city also is lowering its contribution to the Western Tidewater Health District to better reflect its share of residents using the health department’s services. Suffolk currently pays about 47 percent of the department’s budget, but only 41 percent of those using its services are from Suffolk, Seward said. The health department creates its own budget, so she could not say where the difference will be made up.

Some fee increases are included in the proposed budget, but they do not include a fee for bulk trash pickup. Bulk pickups under eight cubic yards will remain free, as they reverted to for the second half of this fiscal year. An attempt by the city to charge for bulk pickups backfired last year, as a handful of residents refused to pay for their bulk waste pickups and left trash sitting at the curb.

One notable fee increase is a hike in the emergency services rate to be more comparable with surrounding cities and the Medicare rate, Seward said. That adjustment is expected to bring in about $940,000.

A public information meeting is scheduled for April 14 at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers, 441 Market St. Residents are invited to come and ask questions. A formal public hearing will be held April 21 at 7 p.m., and adoption of the budget is anticipated to happen May 5.