City Council adopts budget

Published 10:16 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2018

City Council voted 6-2 in favor of adopting the budget for the fiscal year 2018-19 during its meeting Wednesday evening.

Councilmen Tim Johnson and Mike Duman voted in opposition to the budget.

“I don’t believe we can grow to be everything we can be without our education system being everything they can be,” said Mayor Linda Johnson.

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The meeting didn’t see quite the turnout as prior meetings, and only two citizens spoke during the public hearing, which was held specifically to address the proposed 4-cent tax increase, as required by the Virginia Code.

Both speakers were in favor of the increase, and both were representatives of the Suffolk Public School system.

“Our children are our future, and the school system is the biggest part of the city,” John Yeates Middle School teacher Sidney Neighbours said. “At the end of the day, if the decisions you have made are best for the children, you know it’s a good day.”

The school system requested an additional $4 million in funding to address teachers’ salaries and open two new schools. Each teacher is expected to receive a $3,000 raise.

“After the compensation study, the school fell short, and it’s obvious that not enough was done,” said Nansemond River High teacher Angela McElroy.

Currently, for a teacher with three years of experience, Suffolk is ranked in 10th place compared to 11 surrounding localities in compensation, and teachers with 10 years of experience fall in ninth place in compensation, according to Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney.

With the increased funding, and making some assumptions about what other districts will do, teachers at those experience levels move up to eighth and sixth, respectively.

While Tim Johnson and Duman voted against the budget, several of their colleagues said they do not like tax increases but would support the proposal anyway.

“In some cases, I’m reserved, and I don’t like the tax increase, but when reality sets in and you have to run a city this size, there are going to be times to increase taxes,” Roger Fawcett said. “It’s not going to be popular.”

Fawcett said he received only two calls in opposition to the tax increase and reminded council that only one person spoke opposing the tax increase at the last meeting.

“I’m willing to give it a chance and see where we are going with this,” Don Goldberg said. “Three schools are not accredited, and I expect that to be fixed. It’s wrong. I’m willing to support the budget, but I do have expectations.”

“I mentioned last time that I’m not in favor of the tax increase, and since that time my position hasn’t changed,” Duman said. “Tax doesn’t just affect property owners. Directly or indirectly, all citizens share the burden.”

Duman added that he thought a $3,000 across-the-board raise was the wrong way to go.

“I am in favor of raises for teachers and support personnel. I do, however, disagree with the methodology,” Duman said.

Councilman Johnson disagreed with the tax increase, also.

“With the growth we’ve had and the good things going on, I’m not of the opinion of a 4-cent tax increase,” Johnson said.

The Virginia General Assembly has yet to pass a budget, and the proposed $2.9 million Suffolk Public Schools accounted for in their budget is not a guarantee.

“While we hope they get the $2.9 million, there is no assurance. We are the only people that can say what we will do,” Mayor Johnson said. “Virginia is not in a good spot with teachers. We need to do a better job.”