Video from the March 18th Public Hearing

At the beginning of the meeting, during Budget Director Ann Seward’s presentation, the citizenry was informed that unless the city found ways to cut spending, we would be facing a 2.5 cent increase in our property taxes. However, if the city chose to fully fund the school system, we would be facing a 23 cent raise in our property taxes, moving us from the lowest property tax rate in the Hampton Roads area to the second highest.

As far as I am aware, this is the only video of the event. The footage had to be split into two videos in order to get it on Youtube. The only other edit to this otherwise raw footage was the removal of the name and address of the minor child who addressed the Council.

Please note, the beginning is shaky, but it evens out once I was able to get the camera onto the tripod. Also, I missed the last 15-20 minutes, because my battery died. But I did manage to catch Vice Mayor Brown telling us all that he wishes he could pay the City Manager MORE money.


Suffolk City Council modus operandi in action

This video is from the Feb 20, 2013 Public Hearing on the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). This hearing perfectly demonstrates City Council modus operandi. None of the documentation released by the city on the Seaboard Coastline trail mentioned the grant funding came from the Federal government, via the Federal Highway Administration. Only that the it comes from VDOT, when VDOT is merely the middle man for this money.

Citizens of Suffolk, the city council has made a habit of releasing only the bare minimum of information about the goings-on in Suffolk. When the citizenry dare to question them, they use the information they’ve withheld to do whatever they can to make the citizens look foolish and ignorant. How much longer will we put up with this?

**Full disclosure – I am the Lorraine seen in the video, I am Suffolk HRTP’s social media person. Comments I made at the Council were previously discussed at the Suffolk HRTP bi-monthly meeting, and some of the ideas mentioned were suggested at our meeting. However, comments to Council were my own, I was not speaking on behalf of Suffolk HRTP at that moment.

Where is Your Tax Money Going?

There will be a public hearing on the city’s proposed Capital Improvements Plan this coming Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at the regular City Council meeting. This is our chance to have a say in where the City of Suffolk is spending our tax dollars.

One project on this list that likely needs to be jettisoned is the Suffolk Seaboard Trail. This is a proposed 11 mile hiking/biking trail following the path of the former railway line. While it sounds like a good idea, this project requires the city to put up $190,000 dollars in order to get a $747,000 grant from Virginia Department of Transportation. Yes, the same DOT that is having trouble filling potholes & repairing roads throughout the state is looking to send $747,000 to pave over an old rail line. Oh, and don’t forget – this project will add $25,000 to the city’s budget each year for upkeep and maintenance to the Trail. Is this really a good use of both state and city funds in today’s economy?

Another potential money drain is the slated Bennett’s Creek Recreation Center. The city will acquire the Armory Building on Bennett’s Creek Park Road in a land swap with the Army. They want to dump 1.5 MILLION dollars into the building to convert it into a rec center, which will add close to HALF A MILLION dollars to the city budget EVERY YEAR in staffing, upkeep, & maintenance. We all know that amount will only increase each year. What’s worse, this proposed rec center is only a hop, skip, & jump away from a current rec center! Creekside Rec Center, located in Creekside Elementary, is right on the corner of Bennett’s Creek Park Road. Here’s a map of the city’s current rec centers, with the proposed location being the red balloon:

So, just to get the straight, we have firefighters & police officers who haven’t seen a decent raise in years. We’ve got teacher who also haven’t had a decent raise, and a school system that is currently rationing paper and other supplies. But, oh, let’s dump 1.5 million this year and add half a million to the budget yearly for a rec center, that will be located right down the road from a current rec center, and up the road from a city park. Because that’s a brilliant use of taxpayer dollars right there, isn’t it?

This is just the start. Read through the plan yourself. Bring your findings to our next meeting, Feb 19, 2013. We’d love to hear what our members spot that we may have missed.

Suffolk City School Board Proposed Budget

Suffolk Public SchoolsEveryone remembers the budget battle of April 2012, especially the teachers. The School Board used the teachers to force the City Council to find 5 million dollars for the school system. The teachers’ outrage was real enough in light of the proposed salary increases to upper level city positions, including a 21% increase in pay for the City Manager, Ms. Selena Cuffee-Glenn. The council responded by raiding the transportation fund to buy off the school board and tabling the pay increases, which they ultimately approved in January 2013, after months of Mayor Johnson repeating on the campaign trail that said raises were never in the budget.

This year, the school board is looking at a 6% increase in the budget overall, equal to 9 million dollars more than last year. Suffolk City supplies about 43% of the school system’s operating budget, 57% is provided by the state of Virginia, with the rest of the funds coming from the Federal Government. There is a possibility that Sequestration will hit the School Budget as well, but that was not counted in this proposal as the impact is unknown. The fact that the school system in our city is dependent on money from the Federal Government should trouble us, as Federal Money ALWAYS has strings attached.

Dr. Deran Whitney, Superintendent Suffolk Public SchoolsMost cities in our area, fund more than 100% of the requirement for school funding. Suffolk City only funds the school systems at 75% of the requirement. The City of Portsmouth (comparable in size to Suffolk) funds their schools 176% of the required funding. Suffolk only supplies 75% of the required funding. This is incredibly interesting in light of the massive pay raise the city just handed out to it’s upper echelon. Suffolk City typically finds about 50 million a year for the school system. The school board will ask for 55 million this year. One board member asked “Why is our city not able to fund schools more when cities like Portsmouth are funding their schools fully?” Superintendent Whitney’s response, “I don’t know.” However, he has requested a joint meeting with City Council next Wednesday afternoon (Feb 20) to discuss this situation. A better question might be, if not to the school system, and certainly not to the roads in Suffolk, where is our tax money going?

As part of the budget, the school system is hoping for a 2% cost-of-living pay raise, as well as a 1% Compliance VRS (Virginia Retirement System) raise. As a cost-saving measure, the School Board is looking to stagger the bell schedule & cut the bus department by $700,000 in order to save money. This reduction has been included in the proposed budget even though the board has NOT voted to approve the staggered bell schedule. The board voted to hold three meetings, one at each city high school, in order to discuss the idea with parents. Superintendent Whitney is to determine meeting dates and times soon.

There will be a School Budget Development Meeting with City Council in Chambers on Feb 20, at 4pm. After that, the next Budget Development Meeting will be March 4th.

An interesting tidbit that was run past the school board last night – actual operating costs are only about 15% of school budget. The rest is compensation and benefits for everyone the school system has hired.

Read more at the Suffolk News Herald:Schools Propose larger budget, raise for teachers
Schools consider impact of the ‘fiscal cliff’

Read more at the Virginian Pilot:
Schools seek another $9 million from Suffolk


Budget Battle Starts Now!

Suffolk City School Board will be discussing their budget at tonight’s meeting!

Council chambers @ 441 Market St.

This is the beginning of the City’s Budget Battle for the upcoming Fiscal Year. Now is the time to start paying attention!

Watch the meeting live on the Suffolk City Municipal Channel 8 here.

Suffolk City Manager gets a 14% pay raise

Wednesday, January 16, 2013, the Suffolk City Council surprised everyone with a vote to give City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn a 14% pay raise, in addition to a benefits package that includes a payment of 12,000$ a year into a retirement account, and health & dental covered 100% by the city.  (VA Daily Pilot, Suffolk News Herald)

Oh, and this new 14% raise, is in addition to the 2% raise ALL city employees, including Ms. Cuffee-Glenn, got last year.

But this shouldn’t be surprising to folks who are involved! Anyone remember the budget battle of April 2012?  Remember the idea of a 21% raise for Ms Cuffee-Glenn was one of four double digit raises the City Manager had included in the budget, citing a salary study.  There was an uproar, mostly from the school system, who, having run out of Federal money, found themselves faced with 7 million dollars less than the year before.  In order to pacify the School Board, the city raided the transportation fund, and “found” a few million to throw their way.  Then Mayor Linda Johnson claimed the double digit pay raises were NEVER part of the budget, and that they would be implementing the salary study in three parts, coordinating with performance evaluations.

Fact is, it was in the budget. The Final Budget Proposal offered in the first week of May showed a 27% increase in the salary of the City Manager’s Office — 5 people plus Ms. Cuffee-Glenn.  That breaks down to 2% for all six members of the office, with an additional 15% of salary money unaccounted for – until now.

People of Suffolk, the City Council & the School Board are hard at work formulating Budget 13-14 NOW!  It is vitally important that we pay attention to what is being approved in the various city commisions & boards.  This will determine the next budget.

If we don’t make our voices heard now, it will be too late.