Council views legislative agenda

Published 10:48 pm Friday, November 16, 2018

Suffolk City Council viewed the draft of its 2019 legislative agenda during its Nov. 7 work session.

Rob Catron, partner at Alcalde and Fay, provided a presentation outlining matters that are important to Suffolk for the next Virginia General Assembly session. Most of the presentation was identical to past legislative agendas for the city.

At the top of the list, Catron proposed that education funding remain the biggest priority for Suffolk due to an influx of funds within the state.

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“At this point there is $600 million in unexpected funds, and there are a lot of people standing in line to get a piece of that,” Catron said. “Typically, the General Assembly has lottery funds for school modernization and renovation, but there is a new effort for these new funds.”

While Catron and his firm believe Suffolk should keep education as a top priority, he believes that the priority of education should shift slightly for Standards of Quality funding.

SOQ funding would bring more funds to not just renovations and modernization, but it would add more buses, increase staff (non-teaching) salaries and improve technology.

“The city should request that education remain a top priority but with SOQ funding dramatically increasing,” Catron said.

Other priorities included in the draft agenda included the Western Tidewater Regional Jail Recovery Request for Exemption, Commonwealth Rail Line Safety Relocation and real estate assessments.

The WTRJ exemption request has been on the legislative agenda for years, but Catron believes it’s important to keep it on the agenda.

The priority is to have the state reimburse the jail for all of the inmates it houses, but currently the city is only getting partial reimbursement from the state.

“I don’t expect a difference, but we will work it and see if anyone has changed their minds,” Catron said. “The city built the jail and the state has no business taking any of those funds.”

The agenda includes attempting to have the Port Authority fund a study to see what it would take to relocate railroad lines in Suffolk due to the expectation of higher traffic in the coming years.

“As Craney Island comes online and the terminal begins to get utilized, the fear and expectation is that more trains will be coming through and moving products,” Catron said.

A smaller priority, but still a priority, on the legislative agenda deals with real estate assessments.

A member of the General Assembly plans to propose a bill that would remove a homeowner’s option to file an appeal for a manifest error. The manifest error provision allows homeowners to appeal the assessment for their land, and the owner has to prove the assessor made an error.

“If they remove the manifest error provision then they have no real guidance of what to do with an appeal,” Catron said. “We oppose these bills, because they put disarray on the appeals process.”

The City Council will vote to adopt or amend the legislative agenda at its Dec. 5 meeting. The Virginia General Assembly will begin its legislative session on Jan. 9.