Dozens speak about budget

Published 11:26 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2011

School funding: Parents, teachers and students alike came to the City Council public hearing on the budget Wednesday night with “Save Our Schools” signs. Speakers addressed a variety of issues, including school funding, new trash fees and a proposed tax hike.

The 43 speakers at a public hearing on the city’s proposed budget Wednesday came with varied concerns.

Some are upset about a proposed 6-cent tax rate increase. Some don’t want to pay an extra $222 per year for trash, recycling and other refuse needs. A few want more money for the nonprofit agencies they represent. Several want the public schools fully funded so that two elementary schools can stay open. Some want the city to continue the Hampton Roads Transit bus service.

And some just think the city should spend less than it has proposed in a $532.8 million total budget.

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“Please look at other options before you go immediately into your taxpayers’ wallets,” Amy Underwood said near the end of the two-hour public hearing.

City leaders say the tax increase is needed because of what Budget Director Anne Seward called a “perfect storm” — falling real estate values, declining state and federal revenues, a bottleneck of delayed capital projects, an increasing population to serve and other factors.

Supporters of more money for the schools held up “Save Our Schools” signs while their counterparts spoke.

Sally Griffin brought her daughter, Virginia Griffin, who attended Robertson Elementary School in her earlier years. Robertson is one of the schools the School Board voted to close after receiving a budget proposal less than requested from the city.

Virginia now is getting ready to attend Mary Baldwin College on an academic scholarship.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Virginia said. “With bigger schools, you don’t learn as well.”

William Martin, a Robertson parent, said this is his daughter’s first — and, apparently, last — year at Robertson. He came to City Council after talking to the schools.

“We’ll go back and forth in this dance until we get an answer,” he said. “The folks down in Whaleyville do care.”

Several riders and bus drivers from the Hampton Roads Transit system came out to voice their support. One made her point by asking the City Council members for rides to work.

“I have no way to go to work” without the buses, another HRT user said. “We need our buses, and we need our bus drivers.”

Some of the speakers sought relief from a proposed $18.50 per month fee that covers trash and bulk refuse pickup, curbside recycling, Hosier Road landfill maintenance and preparations for the eventual end of the Southeastern Public Service Authority.

Currently, trash, bulk refuse and landfill maintenance are covered through the general fund. Curbside recycling is available only for a $12 fee through an outside company, not through the city.

Plenty of residents just want the city to spend more responsibly, they said.

“Taxes should not be raised until every last penny has been scrutinized,” Andy Gist said.