City budget crunch looms

Published 10:26 pm Saturday, February 5, 2011

The city is facing another grim budget year, and city officials are looking at all their options to save money.

City budget director Anne Seward presented the unattractive choices Wednesday. Capital projects and citizen services are on the chopping block, while the real estate tax rate is being eyed as a possible way to increase revenues.

“We’re a very lean machine,” Seward said during her presentation.

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Cuts to the city of about $4 million already are under consideration at the state level. Meanwhile, real estate values are falling and the city is facing increased service requirements, including funding the operation of the King’s Fork Public Safety Center, the Visitor Center and the Parks and Recreation Department’s new headquarters for a full year. Each of those buildings opened in the current fiscal year.

“We’re going to have to do business within the paradigm,” Councilman Charles Brown said.

The city also hopes to provide 15 firefighters to staff an additional vehicle at the King’s Fork fire station and 12 to staff an addition to the Driver station.

Further expenses include building a new city hall and providing preliminary costs for a new elementary school to serve the southern and western portions of the city. The rising cost of fuel also is a concern, Seward said.

This will be the fourth consecutive year of budget reductions in Suffolk. In past years, the city has eliminated leases by moving departments into city-owned buildings; reduced overtime and fleet costs; converted trash pickup to a four-day schedule; consolidated departments; and reduced supplies, marketing and training to “critical-only” levels, among other measures.

The city won’t know the full impact of state cuts until the General Assembly session ends Feb. 26. A report on the city’s real estate assessments is due March 2. A proposed budget will be released April 6.