Budget approved

Published 11:02 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2012

City Council on Wednesday approved a $508.8 million total budget for the coming fiscal year.

The adopted budget holds the line on the real estate tax, provides a 2-percent cost-of-living raise to all employees, gives an additional 1-percent increase to offset a required 1-percent retirement contribution and partially implements salary recommendations in a compensation study.

“This has been a very difficult budget process,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said during the discussion of the budget.

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Despite the difficulties, however, she said she is pleased the city was able to provide raises for employees who have not had them in five years, maintain compliance with its financial policies and increase the local commitment to Suffolk Public Schools.

“There will never be a budget where everybody walks away happy,” she said. “I think we have a responsible budget.”

The budget process included a groundswell of public opposition to certain elements of the spending plan, particularly hefty raises for City Council appointees. The raises, which ranged from 21 to 33 percent for the city manager, city attorney, city assessor and city clerk, were swept off the table at the first opportunity by City Council.

“I’m very satisfied with the end result,” Councilman Mike Duman said of the budget.

“I think we’ve done the best we can,” Councilman Jeffrey Gardy added.

In a separate action, the City Council voted to funnel about $2 million in expected new revenues from new commercial construction in the city to Suffolk Public Schools.

Coupled with extra money from the state, that brings the school system within about $1.1 million of full funding of its request, said Deran Whitney, superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools.

Councilman Charles Parr wanted to ensure Whitney knew the new revenues were a one-time funding stream, and Whitney acknowledged that he did.

But Johnson said she hoped the newfound cooperation between the city and school division can help achieve efficiencies that will ensure continued funding of the schools.

“This is a stop-gap,” Johnson said.

Councilman Curtis Milteer highlighted the budget’s investment of $3 million in the Whaleyville community to turn the former Robertson Elementary School into a recreation center.

“Never before has this type of investment been put in that village,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it.”