Council approves budget, delays fee increases

Published 9:10 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2020

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Suffolk City Council unanimously approved a nearly $651 million budget Wednesday that delays the onset of fee increases for water, sewer and refuse by three to six months.

The budget, a 2-percent increase over the current budget, delays the fee increase for residents’ water and sewer rates by 90 days, and puts off the refuse fee increase by six months without any reduction in services. The real estate tax would remain at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. The current budget is $639.4 million.

Deferring the 26-cent increase in the water rate and 27 cents to the sewer rate, and the $1.50 per month increase in the meter service charge, will cost the city $450,000, according to city Finance Director Tealen Hansen.

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Non-departmental expenses will also be reduced by the same amount to reflect the shortfall in money due to the delay, Hansen said, with that being done by lowering the amount of the bond interest expense previously budgeted, and using capitalized interest to fund it. The budget also cuts about $65,000 in salary.

Overall, the utility fund budget is just over $61 million, which reflects a reduction of $450,000, Hansen said.

The $3.95 per month refuse fee increase — from $21.30 to $25.25 — will be delayed by six months, which reduces revenue in the refuse fund by $714,754 and increased fund balance use by a corresponding amount, Hansen said. The overall refuse fund budget, at about $10.3 million, is unchanged.

Hansen noted that the fiscal year 2021 budget included a series of fee adjustments related to Planning and Community Development fees, driven by advertising cost increases, staffing level pressures, and the addition of a new fire protection building plans reviewer. She recommended that the budget keep the current level of expenses the same, with the caveat that staff would analyze the advertising expenses and staff time and would revisit them later this year.

City Manager Patrick Roberts said previously that the city has reduced revenue estimates by about $5 million. At this point, the city only anticipates a cut in revenue for the first few months of the upcoming fiscal year.

The city has proposed $55.6 million for its capital projects fund, which would pay for all projects included in the first year of the adopted Capital Improvements Program and Plan. That includes $23.8 million in general obligation bonds, $3.6 million public utility bonds, $1.25 million in information technology bonds and $500,000 in stormwater bonds.

The general fund budget will be $225 million, while the school fund is set at nearly $181 million and the capital projects fund at $55.6 million. Hansen said previously that the city would delay and freeze spending on capital projects to allow for the market to recover enough for it to issue bonds.

The city’s contributions to Suffolk Public Schools would be $62.3 million, $1.5 million more than last year but less than the $64.8 million the school division requested.

Hansen said property tax revenue is rising due to a combination of reassessment values increasing by an average of 1.87 percent and a 2-percent increase in assessed values due to new construction.

Councilman Mike Duman called for the budget to be reviewed again in 90 days to determine whether any other budget changes will be needed. Other councilmembers, and Mayor Linda T. Johnson, agreed that the adopted budget will need further review.

“During these trying and unpredictable times, Suffolk, I believe, is very fortunate that we have not been affected as a whole as some of the other cities in Hampton Roads and across the Commonwealth and the country,” Duman said. “And I believe the adjustments to revenues that were made, forecast, have been relatively conservative and fiscally responsible.”