Legislative agenda unveiled

Published 11:28 pm Friday, November 7, 2014

The City Council on Wednesday heard a proposed legislative agenda for 2015, a list of desires the city hopes to address with the General Assembly.

Most of the items are pushbacks against unfunded mandates and burdensome regulations, said Rob Catron of Alcalde and Fay — Virginia, LLC. He will be lobbying the General Assembly on behalf of the city in the upcoming session.

Most of the items on the proposed agenda have been on it in previous years but were not addressed or were only partially addressed.

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Among those is the change the city hopes to get to the criteria to designate enterprise zones. Suffolk used to have an enterprise zone, a concept that allows municipalities to offer companies incentives for establishing a facility — and thereby bringing jobs — to a distressed area.

But the city no longer qualifies for an enterprise zone based on the current definition, which takes into account demographic information from the entire municipality.

“What they’ve really done is made it impossible for Suffolk to win,” Catron said.

The city wants to change the criteria to consider only census tracts, which would target areas of otherwise prosperous cities that are still distressed.

The request hasn’t gone anywhere the last couple of years, however, because areas that still have enterprise zones were worried about their funding.

Council members recommended teaming up with other localities that also lost their enterprise zones in recent years — Chesapeake is one — to make the issue harder to ignore.

The Commonwealth Railway Mainline safety relocation also is on the list. The city hopes to get the train tracks moved to less dangerous areas. A segment of the line already has been relocated to the middle of Interstate 664 and Route 164.

Last year, Delegate Chris Jones succeeded in requiring the port authority to do a study on the issue. That study is now in its draft form, Catron said, but he added more action still is needed.

“We’ve got to keep the pressure on the port,” he said.

Also on the list is the Western Tidewater Regional Jail federal recovery. The state currently recovers its cost of housing federal inmates at local jails, including Western Tidewater. But, since a housing unit at the jail was built by Suffolk and neighboring localities, which also pay the salaries of jail officers, there are no costs to the state for housing federal inmates.

The city seeks an exemption from the state’s requirement, which has cost the localities millions since the jail was built.

A list of transportation priorities — including Holland Road widening, a bridge over the Nansemond River parallel to the Godwin Bridge, improvements to railroad crossings and the Kings Highway Bridge replacement — also are included in the agenda.

City Council will vote to adopt the legislative agenda in Nov. 19. A legislative dinner, at which the city will present its agenda to legislators representing the city, is set for Nov. 20.

Catron, the lobbyist, is a change from the last couple of years, when a city staffer, Sherry Hunt, handled the legislative duties as part of her job as intergovernmental affairs and special projects manager.

City spokeswoman Diana Klink said Hunt is now assigned as a senior administrative analyst in the Department of Finance.

Regarding her former position, Klink wrote in an emailed response to questions, “As part of our ongoing initiative to identify efficiencies within the organization that position was reviewed and reclassified.”