Tax increase proposed

Published 6:31 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2018

City Council got its first look on Wednesday at a proposed budget that includes a real estate tax increase, a raise for all city employees and full funding of the Suffolk Public Schools’ budget request.

“The goals of this budget are to provide minimal tax impact, support for Suffolk Public Schools and employee compensation,” City Manager Patrick Roberts said in a Wednesday morning meeting with media.

The proposed budget, totaling $627 million, is a 4.1-percent increase from last year’s adopted budget. A larger percentage increase, at 5.4 percent, was shown in the general operating fund at $213 million.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

The new budget would also add $18.2 million in debt to pay for various capital projects.

The proposed budget fully funds the $4 million in additional money requested from the school system. This figure doesn’t include other financial support the city provides for Suffolk Public Schools, such as debt services and leases on two buildings.

About $2.2 million of the additional school funding will open the two new schools currently under construction, and $1.8 million will go towards the $3,000-per-teacher raise the School Board adopted and other operating funds.

The city is also paying an additional $607,801 in debt service from the previous year for the school system, totaling $11 million in school-related debt payments.

“We have steadily increased school funding from 2012 to today,” Roberts said. “They have seen pretty sizeable increases over the last few years. Suffolk spends more money per child than some of our neighbors, and we are only behind Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.”

More money was also added to the city budget to accommodate 18 new full-time positions for the Chuckatuck Fire Station. The city recently took over staffing at the fire station to accommodate increased call volume.

The new positions add an additional $1.2 million to the budget.

With expenditures rising, the budget gap was $3.78 million.

“As a government, we have to have an equal budget; we can’t budget for surplus,” said Finance Director Tealen Hansen in the Wednesday morning meeting.

To address the school system’s funding requirements, the city-wide real estate tax rate would rise 4 cents under the proposed budget, from the previous $1.07 per $100 of assessed value to $1.11 per $100. The additional tax rates for the Downtown Business District and the Route 17 Taxing District will remain the same.

Even with the increase, Suffolk remains the third-lowest tax rate in the region, according to Roberts.

The average homeowner will pay about $88 more per year with the tax increase.

The 2018-2019 median assessed value of a home in Suffolk is $219,600.

Rate increases for water and sewer were also proposed in the new budget. The proposed adjustments raise water and sewer 51 cents and 6 cents per 100 cubic feet, respectively. The average combined water and sewer bill would increase $4.45 per month if the budget passes as is.

City Council members didn’t have much input after the presentation at their Wednesday evening work session.

“I want to thank the city manager for presenting a well-developed and responsible budget,” said Councilman Mike Duman. “It looks like additional revenue is being spent on education, public safety and employee compensation.”

Mayor Linda Johnson echoed Duman’s praise.

“You are talking about public safety, education and valuing our employees. Those are three very important things to us,” Johnson said.

The budget and related documents are available on the city website, www.suffolkva.us, at City Hall and at city libraries and recreation centers. Citizens can contact the Budget Office for assistance or with questions at BudgetOfficer@suffolkva.us or 514-4006.

A public hearing for the budget is set for May 2 during the City Council meeting, and a special meeting will be held on May 16 to talk specifically about the tax increase. The second meeting will be the first opportunity for City Council to adopt the budget.