Council approves budget 6-2

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Suffolk City Council approved a $532 million budget plan for the coming fiscal year on Wednesday.

The budget, which includes a $169.3 million general fund, received only six positive votes from council members. Councilmen Leroy Bennett and Michael Duman voted against it. Bennett cited concerns with raising taxes and fees in the midst of a sluggish economy as the reason for his “no” vote, while Duman suggested a number of possible cuts that he thought would eliminate 3 cents of the 6-cent real estate tax hike.

But their suggestions were overcome by the other members, who said passing the budget was the right thing to do.

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“Yes, this evening was not easy,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said of passing a budget that includes a number of new or increased taxes and fees. But, she added, “We’re stable, we’re solid, we’re moving in the right direction.”

The approved budget includes a 6-cent tax increase; higher water and sewer rates; a new, mandatory $18.50 monthly fee for trash, curbside recycling, preparation for future waste disposal and other refuse needs; and higher vehicle license fees.

The plan also eliminates the city’s membership in Hampton Roads Transit as of Dec. 31, in favor of an alternative service yet to be determined.

The Suffolk Public Schools system will get about $900,000 less than last year, causing the School Board to make last month’s decision to close Robertson and Mount Zion elementary schools.

Most City Council members said passing the budget is the fiscally responsible decision, and repeated that irresponsible budgets in past years contributed to this year’s unpopular choices.

“We just can’t afford to keep kicking the can,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said.

Duman said he wouldn’t support any more than a 3-cent tax rate increase, and suggested a number of ways he thought the city could find more money.

Among them were taking money from the contingency fund and delaying the start of the recycling program, thereby using the first billing cycle for that program as the start-up costs rather than having separate line items for the start-up costs.

“I am cautiously optimistic about the economy,” he said. “I would not be able to support any more than a 3-cent increase at this time.”

Bennett said he felt like the rising taxes, trash fees, utility rates and license fees, combined with other increases outside the city’s control like fuel and electricity, would be too much for the average taxpayer to bear all in the same year. He noted that most taxpayers have not had a raise in several years or are retired.

“They cannot afford to continue to pay the medical, utilities and other necessities,” Bennett said. “I just have deep sympathy for the people out there that are hurting.”

The approved budget document can be viewed at