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Budget deserves approval

When the Suffolk City Council takes up the budget for a final vote on May 20, it will be under a much different environment than when the budget was originally crafted and proposed.

The city budget proposal came together on the same timetable it always does, calendar-wise. Meetings and hearings on different parts of it, including the capital improvements plan, happened on a predictable schedule.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hit at exactly the right time to cause disruption to the process not only for Suffolk but also for municipalities across the state — and indeed, the state budget itself.

While the timing may have caused issues, however, Suffolk citizens can be thankful it happened early enough in the process to allow City Council to recommend adjustments that will ease the burden on city residents.

The original budget included a proposed increase in the water and sewer rates, which would have equaled about $4.15 extra per month for the average household. Suffolk’s utility ratepayers already fork over money at an incredibly high rate and could well have done without this increase at all.

In addition, a refuse fee increase was proposed that would have hiked bills by $3.95 per month. This fee is billed along with real estate taxes, so it flies under the radar for most taxpayers but does add up to hundreds of dollars per year.

Recognizing that the pandemic has caused economic strain for many of their constituents, City Council wisely took one look at the first proposal of the budget, on April 15, and asked City Manager Patrick Roberts to come back with a proposal to defer those increases.

He did so, announcing earlier this month that water and sewer rate increases could be deferred for 90 days, and the refuse fee increase could be deferred for six months. These delays will bring no reduction in service but will be a small help to local residents.

When the budget was originally proposed April 15, Virginia had been under the strain of the pandemic for more than a month. Businesses across the state had been forced to temporarily close, and that left many of them with no choice but to close permanently. Many workers have lost their jobs, temporarily or permanently, because of the business closures. Those who were fortunate enough to have savings and investments when the pandemic started have likely seen their balances dwindle in the ensuing crisis. We’re now another month in, and though the state has begun the slow process of reopening, hope that the pandemic would be a distant memory by summer seems to be fading.

City Council did the right thing urging more austerity in the budget, alongside what was already assumed right from the start. They should vote this Wednesday to approve the proposal and continue to seek ways the city can provide real, meaningful assistance to its citizens.