City sets legislative agenda

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Suffolk City Council set its legislative agenda on Wednesday for the 2011 General Assembly session.

The city’s interests in Richmond will again focus on opposing unfunded mandates and getting a study performed on the Commonwealth Railway Mainline safety relocation project, part of which is expected to affect areas of North Suffolk.

New to the agenda this year, the city wants a study done on the financial impact of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new pollution regulations for the Chesapeake Bay. It also is concerned about a proposal to allow the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority to begin issuing a certain type of bonds.

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“The 2011 session will be an important one to the commonwealth,” said Sherry Hunt, chief of staff for the city, during a presentation to council. “The whole focus is on the economic crisis.”

The first item on the legislative agenda is identical to last year’s top priority — oppose unfunded and under-funded mandates from the state and federal governments. However, last year’s state budget still was balanced on the shoulders of local governments, Hunt said.

“Ultimately and inevitably, local governments would be one avenue to balance the budget,” she said.

Last year’s agenda also included a request for a study on the Commonwealth Railway Mainline safety relocation project, but no study was initiated. The city is asking for the same thing again this year, Hunt said.

The project aims to relocate about 4.5 miles of rail to the medians of Interstate 664 and Route 164, which were built to accommodate rail tracks in their medians. The tracks currently run through neighborhoods in Portsmouth and Chesapeake.

The city also hopes for a study on the proposed new regulations on Chesapeake Bay pollution. The proposals would impose stringent regulations on the amount of pollutants in the bay, and would levy fines and withhold certain environmental permits from localities that fall short of the goal.

The estimated capital cost for projects that would be needed to comply with the new regulations “are staggering,” Public Works Director Eric Nielsen told council members Wednesday.

“It’s a huge impact for the city of Suffolk,” he said.

Also on the agenda to monitor is a proposal to allow the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority to issue certain bonds, which Suffolk says would put it in direct competition with local economic development authorities.

The city also supports a number of items in the Virginia Municipal League’s legislative agenda, Hunt added.

The General Assembly session begins on Jan. 12 this year.