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Council holds public hearing on budget

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect monetary figure regarding the Circuit Court Clerk’s budget. It has been removed.

Eight people spoke during a public hearing on the proposed $639.4 million budget at Suffolk City Council’s meeting Wednesday.

Many were supportive of what Councilman Curtis Milteer said was the least controversial and smoothest budget of the 38 he’s been a part of.

The budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 keeps the real estate tax rate of $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, though it projects general fund revenue to increase by $5.8 million. It also fully funds the school division’s request, provides a 2.5-percent raise to city employees and funds 25 new positions.

The school division’s $173.3 million budget, which the School Board approved March 19, includes a $1 million increase in city funding, from $59.8 million to $60.8 million. The city’s proposed budget would fund the school division as it has requested, though one resident, Christopher Dove, called for more money for the school division.

Circuit Court Clerk Randy Carter said he appreciated that the proposed budget would provide additional money for his office that includes an extra staff member. Carter said with the addition of a Circuit Court judge this year, he expects his office will be busier.

Several speakers were from local nonprofit organizations supported by the city.

Majdah Schiavi, director of the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk, said its funding would be used to help fill transportation gaps, while Cheryl Simpson, operations manager for the Endependence Center, thanked the city for its proposed $15,000 to continue providing support for Suffolk residents. Linda Bunch, executive director of the Suffolk Art League, said she appreciated the funding it is proposed to receive.

The Western Tidewater Free Clinic’s Bob Hayes outlined how the clinic serves Suffolk in explaining his request for $218,400 from the city.

Mayor Linda Johnson asked City Manager Patrick Roberts to look for more money to provide the free clinic.

“I understand what we’ve given them over the years, and I understand we’re about $113,000 apart in their request, but I also understand what they do and how many people they do it for,” Johnson said.

Councilman Mike Duman said he has been pleased with this budget process, a comment echoed by others on the council.

“Some things that it’s not — it’s not difficult, it’s not trying, it’s not taxing, and it’s rather unchallenging,” Duman said.