10 speak on budget

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2016

City Council members on Wednesday seemed supportive of the city manager’s proposed budget but noted they still have two weeks to consider changes.

Ten people spoke during a public hearing about the proposed $586.5 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

Three of the speakers represented city public safety employees and urged City Council to approve the budget, which includes a 2-percent cost-of-living increase for all full-time and regular part-time city employees and also would implement a compensation study effective Oct. 1, which would bump up the pay of many city employees. The proposal also unfreezes eight public safety positions.

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“We believe this is a positive move in the right direction,” said Lance Callis, representing the Suffolk Police Officers’ Association.

“It would help greatly if all employees were paid comparable to our neighbors,” said Pam King, representing the Suffolk Firefighters Local 2801.

On the other hand, three people representing teachers wanted City Council to appropriate more money toward Suffolk Public Schools. The budget recommends providing only about $262,000 more local money than last year, when the school system had requested $1 million more.

“It seems every year that I have been teaching in Suffolk, I’ve also come to a City Council meeting to ask for a fully funded budget,” said Natalie Street, a third-grade teacher at Creekside Elementary School. “Suffolk Public Schools has an abundance of qualified teachers … but I’ve seen many of these teachers leaving because other districts offered to pay them more.”

Wendell Foster, a teacher at John Yeates Middle School representing the Education Association of Suffolk, agreed.

“When it comes to support for the public schools, you missed the mark,” he said. “We are losing qualified employees every year for our surrounding districts.”

The budget includes no increase on the real estate tax rate, leaving it at $1.07 per $100 of assessed value.

The water rate is proposed to go up about 17 cents, and the sewer rate about 23 cents, per 100 cubic feet. The average user would see an increase of about $3.39 per month.

Councilman Mike Duman said he had considered ways to save money, including skipping the cost-of-living increase for city employees, but determined none of them was feasible.

“I support the compensation study,” he said. “I want to go ahead and do it.”

He also said the school system should look at ways it can cut money within its own budget.

“There’s a lot of different things I feel like the school system could look at to redirect that $700,000,” he said, referring to the rounded shortfall.

“I am fully supportive of the (compensation) study,” Councilman Roger Fawcett added. He said City Manager Patrick Roberts responded to concerns about compression.

“He has pulled it out to make this happen.”

“It’s probably a pretty good plan to go forward with,” Councilman Tim Johnson added.

City Council will consider adopting the budget at the May 4 meeting.

The budget documents are available at www.suffolkva.us. They can be reviewed in person at City Hall, city libraries and the East Suffolk and Whaleyville recreation centers.

Citizens can email BudgetOfficer@suffolkva.us or call 514-4006 for questions.