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City budget proposal calls for 7.2% spending increase, 47 new hires

Interim City Manager Al Moor’s first budget proposal is a robust one that calls for a 7.2% increase in spending from the current budget and would pay for 47 new full-time hires, provide a 2.5% cost of living increase for city staff and fully fund the school division’s request.

In unveiling a $698 million budget for fiscal year 2022, Moor included 18 new firefighters for Suffolk Fire & Rescue as it prepares to build the College Drive Fire Station, and seven positions for the city’s Parks and Recreation department for the opening of the Bennett’s Creek Recreation Center.

Moor’s budget also calls for an additional 22 positions in several city departments, many of which, he said in his budget message, “have operated at the same staffing levels for years despite the growth of the city and its operations.”

“Suffolk’s local economy has been resilient during the (coronavirus) pandemic,” Moor said in his message, “led by a robust housing market with assessed value growth of 5.35% over the last year. Personal property and sales tax revenue have also trended higher despite the pandemic.

“These gains have compensated for declines in admissions tax, recreation program fees and facility rental revenue which have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Overall, Suffolk is in a better position than anticipated heading into FY22.”

Moor’s budget proposal keeps the real estate tax rate level at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, but with reassessment values up 4.2%, there is an effective rate increase.

The city’s water and sewer rates, which were supposed to go up in the current budget but have been deferred due to the pandemic, are slated to increase, as is its stormwater utility fee.

The current water rate of $9.71 per 100 cubic feet is proposed to rise by 70 cents to $10.41, while the sewer collection per 100 cubic feet is proposed to go from the current $7.27 to $7.31, with the meter service charge going from $11.25 to $12.75. When City Council approved the current budget, it deferred a 26-cent increase in the water rate and a 27-cent increase to the sewer rate and a $1.50 increase to the meter service charge.

The refuse rate increased at the beginning of this year from $21.30 to $25.25 per month after being frozen for six months. The current rate is maintained in the proposed budget.

The monthly stormwater fee is slated to increase from $6 to $7.50 in order to address stormwater drainage projects identified in the Capital Improvement Program and Plan.

The general fund budget is proposed to be $237.8 million, while the school fund is at $196.8 million and the capital projects fund is $60.7 million, which pays for all projects in the first year of the adopted CIP.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett and Councilman Roger Fawcett said they want to take another look at the water rates to see if those could be lowered. Tim Johnson said he was fine with the stormwater fee increase, and said “this might be the beginning,” but he said it may be soon time to lower the real estate tax rate. Bennett agreed with that.

“I’m not calling for it this year,” Johnson said. “I’m just putting it out there.”