Council approves capital plan

Published 10:00 pm Friday, March 3, 2017

City Council on Wednesday approved a plan for capital improvements for the next 10 years, much to the chagrin of a group of citizens who supported more money for neighborhood improvements.

“You chose to put things and places above people in those communities,” said Ross Boone, who has spoken for a number of downtown-area neighborhoods that have coalesced to fight for more money. “We’re going to be here and we will keep talking to you and asking you to be the leaders you were elected to be.”

The group was asking for more money than the approximately $1.25 million that has been designed in the coming fiscal year to make improvements in neighborhoods, such as removing ditches and installing sidewalks, curbs and gutters.

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Boone spoke at the Feb. 15 meeting, laying out a plan that would fund all of the improvements within five years if the city dedicated $5 million in each of those years.

But in the end, the City Council approved a plan that made only two major changes from the originally proposed plan, and neither of them had anything to do with neighborhood improvements.

The new plan held off funding for one year on a new, $6.5-million shooting range for Suffolk law enforcement officers. Council members said last month they didn’t have enough information on why the range is needed.

The plan also moved forward $1 million in transportation funding to make up for the spike in debt issuance caused by putting off the shooting range. The move also will help take advantage of matching funds available from the state.

The council voted 7-1 in favor of the revised plan. Councilman Curtis Milteer voted in opposition, speaking up for the neighborhood improvements.

“We were put here by the majority of the people who are voters in the area in which you live to do their will and what is right,” Milteer said. “Let’s not fall asleep at the wheel and do nothing.”

About nine people spoke during late appearances at the meeting, after the capital improvements plan had been approved, to argue for more investment in neighborhoods.

“I am ashamed of you that you would allow such a piddly amount of money for neighborhoods,” said Seneca Bock, who was speaking on behalf of the NAACP. “I would expect you to do something different.”

It’s not only downtown neighborhoods that are in need of help, said Karen Roberts, a resident of the Pughsville neighborhood in North Suffolk.

“There has been a drainage problem in Pughsville since I lived in Pughsville, and I’ve been there since ’99,” she said. “When it rains in Pughsville, it’s almost like we need a canoe to get out of our door.”

Robert Wilkins, a Jericho resident, said it’s time to stop overlooking the communities.

“These communities have been overlooked for a long time,” he said. “Everybody’s worried about getting re-elected next year, but what about doing right by your brother?”

City Manager Patrick Roberts said the city uses a neighborhood needs assessment, last updated in 2013, to decide where to do neighborhood improvements. The city also uses its own crews to do the work, saving on engineering costs and other expenses.

Roberts also said a separate $1 million is slated to improve the flooding and drainage problems in Pughsville.

He said he can bring more recommendations in the fall, before the next capital improvements plan update begins.

City Council members reassured residents they will not be forgotten.

“It might not be as fast as you would like, but it’s on our agendas,” Councilman Lue Ward said. “It’s on the radar.”