Some perplexing questions

Published 10:27 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2011

As they prepare to hear tonight from members of the public regarding their proposed 2011-2012 city budget, which calls for the average homeowner in Suffolk to pay hundreds of dollars a year in extra fees and taxes, it would be fitting for members of the Suffolk City Council to ponder a few of the questions that are in the air around the city since the proposed $532-million spending plan was proposed a couple weeks ago.

Why would council members cut the school system’s requested budget without somehow trimming their own?

Under the proposed spending plan, Suffolk schools would get $900,000 less from the city this year than last, compounding a multi-million-dollar shortfall in state funds. The shortage of expected money has driven the School Board to set plans into motion to close two smaller, aging schools. But the city’s budget represents a 15.9-percent increase over current-year spending levels. No positions have been cut, no services modified and no salaries trimmed. In fact, at least a dozen new fire and rescue positions would be filled as Suffolk moves to convert Driver Volunteer Fire Department into a self-sufficient professionally staffed station, augmented by volunteers.

Email newsletter signup

Aren’t there ANY positions that are unnecessary in a workforce of hundreds?

For instance, considering that there are far fewer homes being built today than there were three years ago, before the bottom dropped out of the housing market, shouldn’t there be some way to save money on inspections or permitting or some other facet of the bureaucracy connected to construction? Why should the city need the same number of positions today that it did back in the boom times? Should taxpayers suffering from lost jobs, lower wages, foreclosures and crashing equity be relied upon to provide employment to city workers in those departments or others as a social program?

Can’t Suffolk postpone any of its construction plans?

Of the $73.2 million that has been added to the current year’s budget to reach a level of $532 million, $54 million is in the capital fund. Among the projects that would receive full or partial funding through the fund: a new City Hall to replace the current one, which has longstanding and worsening structural problems; runway and security improvements at the airport; and a new elementary school for the southern portion of the city. All are deserving and needed projects, but can it truly be argued that there is no room for any of them to be held up for a year so that taxpayers might experience some of the economic recovery that has been talked about so widely and yet felt so scarcely?

Where is the sacrifice on the part of the city government?

This is the most basic question of all. The city’s taxpayers have sacrificed jobs, retirement plans, health benefits, stock portfolios and homes to the recession. They currently are sacrificing more of their paychecks to everything from food to fuel as inflationary pressures mount. They have learned to make do with less, whether at home or in the workplace. They do not have the luxury of declaring that their incomes need to be higher and having it so. Instead, they understand that there is a certain amount of money available to them, and they find a way to live within that limit. Why can’t their city government do the same?