Three voice budget concerns

Published 10:35 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A grand total of three citizens made their voices heard at the start of the city’s budget season, sharing concerns about environmental issues, nonprofit funding and traffic woes.

The three attended a public input session held Wednesday. A similar meeting planned Tuesday evening ended when no members of the public showed up.

“As my mother used to say, no news is good news,” Budget and Strategic Planning director Anne Seward said at Tuesday’s non-event. She attributed the lack of attendees to concerns about icy road conditions.

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The attendance was not much better at Wednesday’s daytime meeting, but that gave the three attendees time to share their concerns in-depth with Seward and two City Council members.

John Wass, a Crittenden-area resident who is the treasurer of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, arrived at the meeting with a variety of concerns, ranging from a dearth of public water access to continued funding for the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

“[The river] is really the backbone of our city,” Wass said. “There’s only one public access, and that’s not even on the Nansemond.”

Noting that the city owns a lot of land along the river, Wass urged more public access points on the river.

He also advocated funding for the Seaboard Coastline Trail, a proposed multi-use trail, for stormwater runoff, for a cheaper recycling program and for keeping the cultural arts center afloat.

“We need to keep the funding there,” he said of the center. “It takes time to get something like that going.”

The city’s $450,000 annual subsidy of the center has been the subject of much criticism in past years.

Mary Haddad and Leila Rice arrived at the meeting to voice support for the ForKids Suffolk House homeless shelter. Haddad is on the ForKids board of directors, and Rice is the community and media relations manager for ForKids.

“We’re a tremendous resource for them to break that cycle,” Rice said.

Haddad offered statistics from the program indicating that each child who was sheltered last year was promoted to the next grade level. Nationally, only one in four homeless children graduates, Rice said.

“I can tell you that moving from household to household, these children do not typically move up a grade level,” Haddad said. “The services provided by Suffolk House overcome that hurdle.”

Suffolk House received no local money from the city budget last year, but $30,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding, a federal program, was funneled to the shelter through the city. The shelter had requested $60,000 in local funding.

Seward said after the meeting she is optimistic about this year’s budget process but does not yet know how state budget cuts will shape up. The governor’s recommendations were announced on Monday.

“Right now, we really don’t know,” she said. “We have our eyes on the [Virginia Retirement System] possible impacts.”

Besides possible cuts, the city also is facing increased monetary needs, including funding the operation of the King’s Fork Public Safety Center for an entire year.

The budget is expected to be presented to City Council on April 6. A public hearing on the budget is tentatively scheduled for May 4.