Budget passed

Published 10:46 pm Wednesday, May 6, 2015

City Council on Wednesday passed a budget that includes funding for Suffolk Public Schools to boost teacher pay.

“I think the council tonight makes a big statement,” Councilman Roger Fawcett said just before the unanimous vote. “When you get right down to it, we are putting in front tonight education.”

After a lengthy public hearing at its April 15 meeting that included dozens of teachers pleading for higher pay, City Council directed the city manager to look at revenue projections and further expense reductions to see if the school district’s request could be fully funded.

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The city manager’s proposed budget had recommended funding only about half of what was needed to implement the first phase of a salary study that showed teachers in the middle of the salary scale are underpaid by about 12 to 19 percent. The first phase also would boost the pay of a handful of positions at more than 20 percent below the market.

Finance Director Lenora Reid said several revenue streams have updated projections that would allow the school system to be fully funded. They include a projected increase of $700,000 in the business license tax, $500,000 in the tobacco tax, $200,000 in the personal property tax and $175,000 in the lodging tax.

The assessor also projects about $121,000 in additional revenue that was not included in the budget proposal, Reid said.

Expenditure projections also were “scrubbed,” Reid said, leading to reductions in information technology and other funds.

The budget includes a 4-cent increase on the real estate tax rate, which now rises to $1.07 per $100 of assessed value.

Costs for water and sewer are rising, too. The water rate will go up to $8.86 per 100 cubic feet, a hike of 57 cents, if the budget is approved. The sewer rate would go up 27 cents, to $6.74.

Some members of City Council said they didn’t care for the increases but voted for the budget anyway.

“I don’t like any taxes; I don’t like the water situation that we have,” Councilman Don Goldberg said. “We’re on track. Some things we just have to do.”

“I don’t agree with the tax increase, but I see where we need the tax increase,” Councilman Tim Johnson said. “I’m thrilled. For the council to put education first, I’m excited.”

The total budget, including 17 operating, capital and enterprise funds, is about $547 million. The general fund equals about $187 million, a 3.9-percent rise from last year.