City budget revealed

Published 10:23 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2017

City Council on Wednesday got its first look at a proposed budget that includes no real estate tax rate increase, a 1.2-percent cost-of-living adjustment for all city employees and $1 million in additional funding for Suffolk Public Schools.

“This budget provides a balanced approach to meet the various needs and at times competing demands of a growing city,” City Manager Patrick Roberts told the City Council members.

The proposal of additional funding for Suffolk Public Schools is half of the $2 million additional the school system had requested. But Roberts noted the school system receives other support from the city in separate line items, including more than half a million dollars to pay the division’s administrative office lease and about $10.6 million in education-related debt in the coming fiscal year alone.

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He also noted an increase in school funding is expected next year with a new middle school coming online. Overall, city support of the school division has increased in recent years, despite flat enrollment, Roberts noted.

During the City Council meeting Wednesday night, City Council took the first step toward increased monitoring of how school money is being spent.

The council voted unanimously, after a motion by Councilman Mike Duman, to have the city attorney prepare a report on options the city has for more oversight, including possible additional reporting requirements.

Duman said he is troubled by the perception that money in the school system has been mismanaged. Whether it’s true or not, he noted, that belief needs to be put to rest.

Also during the regular meeting, Councilman Roger Fawcett encouraged school system employees, at least a dozen of whom were in the audience, to press the School Board and superintendent for answers.

“This council has given money, money, money every year to that school system,” Fawcett said. “You need to go back and hold your School Board and superintendent’s feet to the fire.”

“We can dump all the money in the world in the school system,” he continued, “but if it’s not going to get down to the classroom, what good is it going to do?”

Conversation in the earlier City Council work session mostly centered on a fee increase for refuse disposal.

The refuse disposal fee will rise $3 per month to $19.50 per month. This increase is needed because the city’s agreement with the Southeastern Public Service Authority runs out in January 2018, and after that, the city will have to start paying tipping fees for trash disposal.

City Council members noted a number of unknown variables with SPSA. Among those, the city doesn’t yet know how much it will receive as a host fee, which depends on how much trash is dumped at the Suffolk landfill.

Perhaps more disconcerting, the total cost of remedying an excess of leachate at the Suffolk landfill also is not yet known. Part of the plan involves pumping the leachate from the landfill and transporting it using trucks to facilities where it can be treated and released. The entire situation is expected to cost millions of dollars to mitigate.

“I think we have to be vigilant,” Fawcett said during the Wednesday work session. “It is an issue that has to be dealt with.”

Several, including Fawcett, said they didn’t like the fee increase but believe it is likely necessary.

The city budget includes nine new city positions in the general fund. Six of those positions are dedicated to front-line public safety.

The budget would provide for one new uniformed police officer and also would hire two civilians to do jobs sworn police officers currently are doing, allowing them back on the streets. Three new firefighters also are proposed.

A new appraiser, assistant commonwealth’s attorney and deputy treasurer are proposed, helping to address increased workload in those departments.

Despite the new positions, Roberts said the city government remains the second-smallest in the region, with 14.7 positions per 1,000 citizens.

“We still remain a fairly lean organization,” he said.

The proposed budget includes $68.3 million in capital costs, including $19.3 million for the schools. About 35 percent of the total capital budget for this year comes from non-local sources.

Water and sewer rates will rise this year by about $2.05 per month for the average user. The rate will go up by 17 cents per 100 cubic feet for water and 24 cents per 100 cubic feet for sewer.

The budget and related documents are available on the city website,, at City Hall and at city libraries and recreation centers.

A public hearing on the budget is set for the City Council meeting on May 3. A public information meeting, where citizens can talk personally with budget department representatives, is set for 6 p.m. April 12 at City Hall.