City issues get mixed results in Richmond

Published 10:51 pm Thursday, February 20, 2014

The city’s legislative agenda has met with mixed reception in Richmond throughout the first few weeks of the General Assembly session.

On the one hand, two studies the city requested have sailed through the Senate and arrived on the docket of the House Committee on Rules, and two budget amendments will provide the city with considerable resources to mitigate the disruption of railroad crossings in the city if they survive the budget process.

But on the other hand, a House committee continued to next year a change to the way enterprise zones are defined that would be favorable for Suffolk, and a move that would get extra money for the Western Tidewater Regional Jail does not appear likely to succeed completely.

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But City Council members were pleased overall when they received the report during their work session Wednesday.

“I think we came out pretty well this session,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said.

The requested studies both passed unanimously in the Senate. One asks the Virginia Department of Transportation to look at relocating its regional office that currently sits on Suffolk’s North Main Street. City officials are eyeing it as prime development land.

The other study would look at the feasibility of combining a new city library on West Washington Street with resources from Paul D. Camp Community College.

Another bit of good news from the General Assembly is that a bill that would add Suffolk to the list of localities permitted to place liens on property for unpaid water and sewer charges passed in the House and crossed over to the Senate.

As for the rail project amendments, one amendment specifies that up to $20 million transferred from a leftover 2008 balance be used to create underpasses and overpasses for railroads in Suffolk where they currently cross the street. Another amendment directs the Commonwealth Transportation Board to use that money and any additional unallocated amounts to separate trains and vehicular traffic at various crossings on Nansemond Parkway.

City Council members were disappointed that the exemption from a state cost recovery for the Western Tidewater Regional Jail does not appear likely to happen this year, particularly because the jail already is losing money due to lowering its rate to keep federal prisoners because of trying to compete with other localities.

“We have got to keep pushing it every year,” Councilman Charles Parr said. “The cost of having to keep our prisoners is getting higher and higher. This would help defray the expenses the three localities would have to pay.”

The city of Suffolk cooperates with Franklin and Isle of Wight County on the jail.

The enterprise zone legislation continued to next year would have permitted alternate criteria for establishing an enterprise zone, allowing Suffolk to qualify once again after losing the zone because of increasing average household income. But Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration did agree to spearhead a study of the matter with the ultimate goal of providing funding to expand the program statewide.