Let your voice be heard

Published 9:55 pm Saturday, April 14, 2012

It’s been a long time since the people of Suffolk were as uniformly fired up about something as they seem to be over the city’s proposed 2012-2013 budget, which calls for pay raises of 21 percent and up for City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn and some of her department heads.

Online, in the letters this newspaper has received and in face-to-face discussions with people all around the city, the reactions are the same: People are dumbfounded at the proposal, shocked that it would be presented in the face of pending layoffs within the school system, the likelihood of another year without raises for teachers, increased costs for city services ranging from water to trash pickup and property assessments that remained mostly flat despite yet another year of a lousy real estate market.

A budget presentation meeting last week that normally would have attracted a couple of reporters, a couple of city staffers and — perhaps — a taxpayer or two had more than 50 people in attendance, even though there would be no videotape of the meeting, no official record of the protests that were lodged and no apparent interest from the city’s top administration or most of its council members, who were absent from the meeting.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

The factors that have combined for a perfect storm of public approbation should have been obvious to everyone in the city’s administration and on City Council from the very beginning. And the public’s reaction — including the disapproving words of editorial writers in Suffolk and in Norfolk, which Vice Mayor Charles Brown has referred to as “bullying tactics” — should hardly have come as a surprise.

Folks have given up much to the city in recent years — watching idly as tax rates were increased, as some new fees were implemented and as others were raised. They’ve watched surplus funds from the school system be ultimately redirected to bonuses for city staff. They’ve watched top city officials receive perks for which the average person never could imagine asking.

Now, it seems, they’ve had enough. The question — and it’s a tough one — is whether City Council will heed their cry. There’s some evidence that council members will not.

Brown’s recent column in this paper made it clear that he supports the proposed raises, no matter what anybody suggests to the contrary. Other council members have lauded the fact that the final budget achieves raises for two thirds of city employees without raising taxes. And there’s a long history of council accepting similar proposals with little debate and even less opposition.

Still, that shouldn’t stop Suffolk citizens from making their frustrations known. City Council will meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the public hearing on the budget. If you’re planning to be there, you’ll want to arrive early. All indications are that there will be a packed house.