City to add $57 Million Dollars in NEW debt

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The City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary authorization to $57 million in new debt and set a public hearing for July 17 to get input on the bond sales.

The money will finance a variety of upcoming capital projects, including utility improvements and another round of funding for Pioneer Elementary School, currently under construction off Holland Road. (via Suffolk News Herald)

My question is: Does this mean that City Council authorized spending on these projects without having the money? It appears so, I haven’t been able to get a straight answer on that question yet.

I did contact the budget office to get more information, and was told that the issuance of bonds is something they do every year, and it’s like getting a loan for a mortgage. Thing is, most people aren’t refinancing their home every year.

“Public meetings should be public.”

Those were the words of VA Pilot’s Cherise Newsome today on twitter.

“Turns out, I walked into the tail end of the authority’s 4 p.m. budget meeting that ran over into the regular session scheduled for 5 p.m. Oddly enough, I never got a notice of that meeting, and neither did many others in the press or public.”

not-so-public hearing signMs Newsome discovered that SHRA (Suffolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority) did NOT publicize their 4pm budget meeting. Leads to the question, how many other government boards, authorities, committees, and agencies in Suffolk are not properly publicizing their meetings? And really, just how many government boards, authorities, & agencies are there?

What she discovered from the information being discussed, was that SHRA has been using their reserves to partially fund Section 8 housing for 809 Suffolkians.

“The program costs $480,000 monthly and the authority receives $416,000 from HUD. The authority has dipped into its cash reserves to fund the shortfall but now only about $500,000 remains in reserve, McAdoo said.”


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Tax, Water Rate Increases Pass Council

Wednesday night, the council passed the budget as written with the 6 cent property tax increase & the water rate increases. The vote was 5-3. Councilman Fawcett voted against the water increases and Councilmen Ward & Duman voted against it because they wanted to take over a million dollars from a savings account the city has set aside for emergencies and give it to the school system for an HVAC system.

But, on the plus side, we did win a few small concessions. I don’t want anyone in our group to feel like we failed. If we had not spoken out, the tax increase would likely have been much higher. Remember, at the budget hearing in March, they were talking about anywhere from 11-23 cent increases to pay for so much more. It is because we spoke out that the 2 projects were deferred (the Library land acquisition, & the Bennett’s Creek Rec Center – located 700 yards from Creekside Rec).

We did well for our first time really challenging the budget process. Folks in the city government now know, without a doubt, that we are not only out here, but active & educated about the process. Several councilmen now know our leadership by sight, and on more than one occasion have actively sought out our leadership for discussions. It may not seem like we accomplished much, but we did.

http://www.suffolknewsherald.com/2013/05/01/513m-budget-passed/

http://hamptonroads.com/2013/05/suffolk-property-tax-rate-climb-6-cents

Lessons Learned from the Assistant Superintendent

**Cross posted from Suffolk HRTP **

By: Beau B

Last Tuesday (4/16) we had Assistant Superintendent Kevin Alston at our regular meeting. We grilled him about the school’s budget and the school system’s relationship with the city & council.

The biggest challenge facing our public school system is unfunded mandates. The funding from the state and federal governments has dropped in recent years, but the mandates have not.

One instance, Mr. Alston told us that he is mandated to provide transportation for homeless students, even when they are now outside the district. He told us that this federal mandate was costing a minimum of $3,000 a week – and that money was NOT provided by the state or federal government, that was money that had to come out of the local contribution. The VA Pilot even did a story about this back in 2009. That’s just one example of the way mandates are eating away at the school’s budget. There are plenty of other ways that unfunded, or even partially funded mandates are eating away at the school budget.

Another reason that seemed to stand out to me, lack of state funding. In Virginia, the state primarily funds the locality’s public school system, with the locality (aka city) kicking in a share, then whatever other monies the school system can get out of the federal government or fees & charges is to cover the rest. Thing is, the state funding is based solely on population, or number of students in the system. But what the state is NOT taking into consideration is the land mass of the locality.

One way this affects Suffolk Public Schools is in the Health Department. According to the state, as Mr. Alston informed us, Suffolk only needs 14 nurses. Therefore the state only sends enough money to fund 14 nurses. However, as we all know, the city has 20 schools, and each school must have a nurse. Further complicating this matter is the mandates that require certain kids in the system with extremely special needs require a dedicated nurse on staff. The result is that Suffolk Public School needs 25 nurses. Therefore, the salaries & benefits of roughly 11 nurses is coming out of the money the city gives to the school system.

There are some ways the school system could save a few pennies, one of them being to share services with the city for things like maintenance and groundskeeping. Reducing the School Board’s benefits is another area where they can save a few dollars. Currently the School Board is getting 90% of the their healthcare covered by the school system, as well as retirement.

However, this fight will continue to happen every year. Both City Council & the School Board feel the other is in the wrong. The Council wants the School Board to understand that the city just does NOT have the funds to give any more to the schools, and the School Board feels that Council does not have education as a priority, an impression that was further cemented when Council approved big raises for several of the upper echelon in city government this last year. Until these two entities can come together, every year in April will be a big public battle.

Tea Party Meets with City Budget Director

** Cross posted from Suffolk HRTP**

On Monday, April 15, after spending the weekend before pouring through the budget documents that were released online, Co-Chairman Janet Gurwell & Vice-Chair Lorraine Yuriar (that’s me) met with the city’s Budget Director, Anne Seward, in an attempt to learn more about the numbers. Interesting tidbit: Janet & I were the ONLY citizens to meet with Ms. Seward.

We learned that Ms. Seward does indeed have that line-item budget we wanted, it’s just hidden under the dubious title of “working papers.” She will show & tell you anything you want to know from the stack of papers and files, however. All you have to do is contact her, either by phone [514-4006] or in person.

Ms. Seward is very knowledge, efficient, and an overall nice lady. It truly is a pity that more citizens didn’t take her up on her numerous offers to meet up and discuss the budget. She was able to answer all of our questions thoroughly, and even explained some items we had not considered. She is very good at her job, and has been working hard to not only keep track of city spending habits, but to clean up the budget and get expenses allocated properly.

The biggest example of this comes in the IT expenses this year. We all discovered what a mess the IT department was in when the Suffolk News Herald did their expose on the office. It should come as no surprise that their billing practices were equally messy. This year, Ms. Seward took over IT’s billing. Where the city’s IT costs used to be distributed evenly across all city departments, she has changed that this year. This year, Ms. Seward has worked hard to sort out actual IT expenses per department, and only charge each department for what they actually use. The result – on the budget document we can find online, several departments appear to have massive increases in their IT expenses, while other departments have drastic savings in theirs. Ms. Seward has been working on cleaning up more and more of the budget since she took over the job a few years back. This year, the expense areas she focused on cleaning up were IT, Fleet, Copier, & Utilities.

In Utilities, there was no one person keeping track of what each department was spending, but there is now. Ms. Seward has changed the way the city handles each department’s utility bills, by having each department forward their bills to a certain person. It is now that person’s job to keep an eye on each department’s utility usage, to look for usage patterns and potential savings.

As a result of our meeting, we were able to come up with a list of ways the city could potentially reduce spending in an effort to stop the tax increase & water bill increase.

More than just property taxes are going up!

tellcouncilno

The budget presented to City Council at their last Work Session not only raises our real estate property taxes, it will also increase our HRUBS bills by 10%!

The city has decided to pay for the water projects in the CIP by raising the fees on your water & sewer, this way they can claim to keep property tax low, but still get more money from the citizens. The water usage fee will increase 9.9%, while the sewer fee will increase 8.8%, because of other facets of the HRUBS bill, it means roughly a 10% increase. This means if you have a water bill that averages about $220 every two months, this increase will cost you another $22 every two months. That’s $130 extra a year.

Real Estate Property Tax is determined by the value of your property. This year’s budget will increase your property tax by $0.06. For every $100 dollars of value, you are currently paying $0.97. This year’s budget raises that rate to $1.03. So if your home is currently assessed at $175,000, your new tax bill would be $1,802.05 – about $105 more than last year. Keep in mind, the more money the city says your property is worth, the more money they can collect from you in taxes on it. This is why there are a few developers and a hotel currently bringing a lawsuit against the city for over-inflating their property tax assessments for the last several years. By the way, this property tax increase will affect renters too. When your landlord’s tax bill for the property you are renting increases, where do you think he will get the money for to pay it? Our co-chairman, Janet, would like to encourage everyone to take a good look at their current assessment. Is there any way you could sell your property at that price today? If not, call the assessor’s office and ask to have your assessment adjusted.

City Council has proven that they are listening to us! We can not back down now! All of us, when faced with the prospect of earning less money this year than last, are forced to cut our budgets & make do with less. Yet when the city is faced with less money, they raise our taxes and keep right on spending. It’s time for City Council to tighten the city’s financial belt and make some tough choices.

Call your councilman. Let him know that this water/sewer fee increase is an outrageous tax on the hardworking people of Suffolk. Tell them the 6 cent increase in property taxes is unacceptable in today’s economy. But most importantly, show up to the next council meeting, April 17, 2013 at 7pm at City Hall. Get there early, bring signs. Be prepared to stay for the long haul. We must make our voices the loudest in the room in order to make sure that the City Council, the City Manager, and even the School Board hear our message.

Celebrate the Small Stuff

victory

Just about everyone in Suffolk agrees on one thing: City Council does NOT listen to the people. However, City Council is listening to us! True, the budget still includes a property tax increase, and a water/sewer fee increase, however, two projects we spoke out against were deferred! There is even better evidence beyond that, proving Council & the City Manager are paying attention to US!

The biggest victory is, of course, the deferment of two projects. The “Central Library” plan, which was to replace Morgan Memorial, was slated to spend 1.5 million dollars acquiring land in the coming year, while the building itself was not slated to be built until 2019 at the earliest. That would have meant 5 years of that area of property being off the tax rolls, not to mention the businesses that would have been shut down during the acquisition. This was NOT a good idea in this economy. You complained, City Council listened. The project will likely come up again in the future, but for this coming year, it’s off the books.

The other project that was deferred was the Bennett’s Creek Rec Center. This particular rec center was to have been built a short 700 yards from the existing Creekside Rec Center. It would have cost the city 1.25 million dollars to renovate the building & surrounding land in the coming year and would have added over $400,000 a year in maintenance, upkeep, & salaries.

The deferment of these two projects will reduce the rate of spending growth by 2.7 million dollars! Everyone who called their councilman, or showed up to the March 18th budget meeting, you did that!

Another piece of evidence that the Suffolk HRTP has gotten the attention of City Council, was the numerous times that multiple councilmen & government representatives kept insisting that the budget that has been released is a line-item budget. Even better, the documents were released at the time the Work Session started, when it would normally take 24 hours or more to for the city to get them online.

The last bit of evidence that proves our voices are being heard; the city manager’s letter directly addressed the question of reducing the fleet, an item brought up by several of our members at the March 18th Budget Meeting. She of course was against such a measure, but the point is, she addressed it! Ms. Selena Cuffee-Glenn responded to us!

While there is still much work to be done in Suffolk, it is important for us to celebrate these small victories and realize that we ARE making a difference in Suffolk.

Now, back to work.

Suffolk Tea Party issues “Better City Challenge” to Council, School Board

On Monday, March 19, 2013, Councilman Parr said, “I’d love to see a line item budget from the schools.” We agree, and would like to challenge the Councilman to take it a step further and also request a line item budget from the city.

Mayor Johnson has said repeatedly that the budget is not due until the end of June. There is plenty of time for both the School Board and the City Council to put together and release a line item budget. We would like to see these line item budgets available to the public 30 days ahead of a public hearing, to allow the citizens of this city to give the City Council and the School Board ideas and direction for ways to trim down both budgets.

It was very disingenuous of the City Council to hold a public hearing requesting citizens to give them “specific ideas of where to cut city spending” without giving the citizens any sort of documentation ahead of time detailing city spending habits.

It also appears that either the School Board or the Education Association of Suffolk has misled the teachers. Teachers need to know that the School Board gets a lump sum from the city. It is the School Board’s responsibility to distribute that money in a manner they see fit. The city has very little to do with the teachers’ pay raise.

At the end of the public hearing, several councilmen, especially Mr. Duman and Mr. Parr, commented that although they had heard the two messages; NO to more taxes & fund the schools, that they were disappointed the citizens had not given them specifics to cut in order to fulfill those two messages.

Councilman Parr himself came up with an idea to save the city some money in the council meeting on March 6th. When he mentioned that he did not want to hear people telling him to cut the council’s salaries, Mayor Johnson said with a chuckle, “That would be wonderful if it would balance the budget, but it won’t work.” Councilman Parr then chimed in with, “If $20,000 or $15,000 will do it, they can have it.” We would challenge the Councilman & the Mayor, as well as the rest of the Council, and even the School Board, to follow through.

But despite the councilmen’s assertions, there were several options mentioned, including cutting back on city vehicles & not funding 100% of the city manager’s healthcare costs. It was otherwise impossible for citizens to give the Councilmen what they wanted due to a lack of information about the city’s spending habits.

As such, we, the Suffolk Chapter of the Hampton Roads Tea Party, do challenge the City Council, the City Manager’s Office, and the School Board to:

  • Release a line item budget.
  • Post said budget online and allow 30 days for citizens to peruse the documents.
  • Hold a public meeting, town hall style to allow for true interaction between the City Council /School Board and the public. Anyone who does NOT have anything to say beyond “fund the schools” should be told to add their names to a list, and allow for those with genuine ideas about spending reform to be heard.

The ball is in your court Councilmen. Make it happen.

** Cross posted from Suffolk HRTP

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.

Enjoy.

The Mayor’s chat with the VA Pilot: Translated & Truthified

Last Thursday, Mayor Johnson participated in an online chat about Suffolk’s economic development with Jeff Sheler of the Virginia Pilot. Most of answers were predictable, but some danced around the truth, while others sounded good but conveyed nothing. Here is the interview, along with some politi-speak translations & truth.

Jeff Sheler: Joining us with the mayor are deputy city manager Patrick Roberts, economic development director Kevin Hughes, and chief of staff Debbie George, who will be typing the mayor’s responses to your questions..

Notice – The mayor is not doing this on her own. She’s got the economic development guy standing over her shoulder, and the city’s Chief of Staff playing transcriptionist.

Jeff Sheler: Mayor Johnson, two and a half years ago the city faced pretty bleak economic prospects with the announced disestablishment of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, based in Suffolk. Things have turned out much better than many predicted at the time. Why do you think that is? Mayor Linda Johnson: I think it was in part of the plan that we put in place immediately which was to reject the closure, replace anything that we were to lose and certainly to retain as much as possible. We had many partners federal and state working very diligently with us to ensure the outcome was successful. After many months of hard work we were able to replace with the cyber command – a very important piece to the future military.

Truth was, JFCOM closing didn’t affect Suffolk’s economy, because many of the people who worked there did not live here. It did affect the civilian contractors, as all their contracts were cancelled. There was some loss. Then the Mayor announced that Cyber Command would be bringing over “200 new jobs” to the area, which was a stretch of the truth. The jobs were mostly existing jobs that were being relocated from VA Beach. They were new to Suffolk, but for the most part not new, and not even for residents of Suffolk.

Jeff Sheler: We have a question coming from Mark… Comment From Mark I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about growth and development. What exactly is our plan for growth and where do we see ourselves headed. Mayor Linda Johnson: Hi Mark – thanks for your question. We see Suffolk headed for a very bright future. As we move forward we are guided by our comprehensive plan for the city so as to ensure that infrastructure needs and growth are compatible. Our goal is to see growth throughout our city so that all of our citizens benefit as we grow together.

Translation: Hoo-Rah! Go Suffolk! We are Awesome! Just ignore the looming 3 million dollar shortfall in our budget, we rock! “It’s a good time to be in Suffolk!”

Comment From Guest What kind of incentives do we offer businesses to come (or stay) in our community. Jeff Sheler: Good question Guest. The mayor is typing her answer. Mayor Linda Johnson: It depends on the size of business, the needs of the business and how the business fits into our city. We work very closely with workforce development and our Economic Development Department works with current and future businesses of our city to help ensure their success. We multiple economic development incentives depending on the business.

We saw this with the recent 3.7 million dollar tax break incentive to Lipton to keep their factory here in Suffolk. The state kicked in another 1 million in grant money to convince Lipton to stay. But think about this folks, do you really believe that Lipton would have been able to relocate its largest tea-producing plant, the plant that produces all Lipton Tea for North America, for less than $96 million dollars? Do you really believe that Lipton would have been able to start from scratch in a new location for less than $96 million?

Jeff Sheler: An example of that happened this week with the Lipton announcement, right? In that case it was a grant. How common is that for the city? Mayor Linda Johnson: It is not uncommon for incentives to be used for a company such as Unilever. We were in competition with other states and it is most important that we maintain ourselves in the global market. Lipton has been a business partner in our city for almost sixty years and is an integral part of who we are. We were able to keep 300 jobs in our city and make sure that Lipton/Unilever is a part of our future. The incentive was appropriate and the announcement was a success for our city.

Mayor Johnson touts the 300 “saved” jobs, and in the papers the city has been saying that this may result in more jobs down the line, but the “$96 million expansion” is not really an expansion, it’s more of an equipment upgrade. The city’s $3.7 million in tax breaks over the next few years, coupled with the $1 million from the state equal about $15,667 per job “saved.”

Jeff Sheler: Here’s one from Mr. Wizard. Comment From Mr. Wizard Economic development question. With all the money being spent on the ‘NorthEnders”; when will some of the ‘redevelopment’ funds be spent ‘downtown’? Mayor Linda Johnson: Thank you Mr. Wizard. The northern end of the city has grown as a result of much private investment in our city. The location of 664 made the northern growth inevitable. We’re steadily working to redevelop downtown and in fact the success of the northern end will only help the rest of the city. We look forward to a vibrant, redeveloped downtown as all of the city grows.

Lies. Right after this chat, the Suffolk News Herald released a story about the city spending $3.2 million dollars in Redevelopment money to invigorate a site in Northern Suffolk. They are hoping to attract a hotel. Meanwhile, the old Obici site remains an eyesore, the old Lowes building remains empty, all while buildings downtown are falling further into disrepair – broken windows and boarded up doors are becoming more prevalent in the downtown areas just off of Main Street. Now, the city did just hand the old Obici site over to the Economic Development Board, after hanging onto the land for more than 10 years with nothing to show for it, not even property taxes. The only thing I can think of that the Mayor may be considering as investment in the downtown area is the new City Hall & the library they want to build right across from it.

Jeff Sheler: Here’s a related question from Pam. Comment From Pam Are there any future plans for economic growth in Holland? We don’t have a grocery store or a Dollar Store to shop. It takes us about 20 minutes to get to Food Lion. Mayor Linda Johnson: Thank you Pam. We are happy to report that the site plans have been approved for a Dollar General at Holland Rd and Dutch Rd. As the infrastructure to the village is completed, the growth will follow. I know it has been a long time coming but that infrastructure is on the way.

Translation: Hoo-Rah! Dollar General! The Mayor says that growth will come to Holland when the infrastructure is built, but the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) showed that NOT A SINGLE PENNY will be spent on the “Neighborhoods & Villages Initiative” this coming year. That means, not a whole lot will be done to help out Holland, Whaleyville, Driver, or any other “village” in the city of Suffolk in the coming fiscal year.

Jeff Sheler: Realistically, how much of a role can local government play in setting the city’s economic climate? Mayor Linda Johnson: That’s a really good question Jeff. There are many things about the economic climate that are out of our control that we must keep a close eye on. Having said that we have to continue to do all things necessary to be ready as the climate changes, which I believe we are already beginning to see. We have to make sure our workforce is ready to take the jobs as the companies plan their futures in Suffolk. We are seeing a lot of activity in our Economic Development Department that indicates that climate change.

Interesting answer. She’s right to an extent, but there is plenty the city can do to encourage economic growth in the city, starting with lowering taxes and making it easier to do business inside the city. I would love to know what she means by “activity in our Economic Development Department”. Does that mean the multitude of warehouses that have been going up in reaction to the Ports deal? The new mini-outdoor mall being built by the Walmart in Downtown that will be anchored by Sprint, the 4th cell phone store in that intersection? Is there something else down the pike? Or does this reference the Lipton deal?

Jeff Sheler: A question from Diane F. coming up. Comment From Diane F. Why does the development seem to move so slowly for our city? Mayor Linda Johnson: Hi Diane. I don’t believe development moves any slower in our city than it does elsewhere. In fact, we have many examples of fast tracking development such as our recent Ace Hardware announcement. There are many facets of development and sometimes the timeline is not only determined by the city but the company doing the development.

Translation: Economic Development isn’t slow here, at least, no slower than anywhere else.

Jeff Sheler: Here’s a question emailed to us from Shawn Garrow: “Zoning decisions previously made by the City Council have resulted in significant deforestation and the proliferation of warehouse construction in our city. Please provide tangible examples on how you propose to sustain and expand the capacity of city thoroughfares given the rapid influx of traffic. Likewise, do you envision that the targeted focus on creating warehouse jobs is the most desirable approach versus adopting a strategy which emphasizes economic development aimed at careers in higher earning occupations such as those in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)? – Shawn” Mayor Linda Johnson: Hi Shawn – thank you for your question. The City is working daily on our transportation challenges and looks for every dollar to enhance and expand our roadways as traffic is inevitable. The focus on warehousing is but one part of our diverse portfolio for future jobs. It is important that all of our citizens have good paying jobs available to them within our city. The warehousing industry of today and tomorrow is not warehousing as we knew it. It does require a skilled workforce and we are working to have those jobs held by our citizens. The high tech jobs will also be available in our city so the key is to be diverse so that all of our citizens may work.

Translation: A job is a job. Warehousing is where it’s at in this area right now. Hopefully we’ll get some tech jobs in the future. Oh, and we know the roads are a problem. We took control of the roads from VDOT all those years back thinking we’d have access to a new revenue stream as VDOT paid us to handle the roads. But lately VDOT’s funding share has been decreasing, and we had to rob transportation to pay for the school budget last year, so, yes, roads are a biggie, and we are totally working to find more grant money and stuff because we’re broke.

Comment From Irv Harrell What can you tell us about some of the retail closures in the downtown area? There appear to be a lot of empty storefronts. Mayor Linda Johnson: Hi Irv. It is true that we have seen closures of retail businesses downtown but we are also seeing openings and success stories downtown. It is very difficult in today’s environment to have a small business. The true success of the downtown will come with more feet on the street. People must use our local businesses on a regular business. Our “Love Local” campaign says it all. I make every effort to do my shopping locally whenever possible.

Translation: Yes, there have been closing in the downtown area, especially just off Main Street. But hey! We’ve had some ribbon-cuttings over by the Walmart! So buy local!

Comment From Guest Are there any plans to modernize the Suffolk Airport? As a pilot, it seems like we are losing a lot of business to Hampton Roads Regional as they have recently upgraded their facilities. Mayor Linda Johnson: Thank you for your question. We have in fact recently modernize the airport terminal building and their are plans in our capital improvement budget for external infrastructure improvements. We just completed a runway extension. Just last year we placed the airport in our Economic Development Department so as to make it more of a priority in our city. We have a new restaurant announcement coming soon. Please visit our airport. I think you will be pleased.

Truth: The Suffolk Executive Airport was badly mismanaged for years, so badly mismanaged that it is now in such a state of disrepair, it’s cheaper to just outright replace many items then to repair them. The City took it over some time back, and the City Manager tried to get the Council to sign it over to her last September.

Comment From denise Why is the city considering building a new library, instead of renovating schools such as gyms/improving technology in the classrooms? With today’s technology the library usage will only continue to get smaller. Mayor Linda Johnson: Thank you Denise. The new downtown library has been a priority for many years that has not made the cut due to budget issues. The usage of our downtown library has increased and the facility is woefully inadequate. Today’s libraries will satisfy the technological needs of our students, some who may not have access otherwise. The capital improvements for the school system are prioritized by the school board and placed within our capital improvement budget. There is need for a library as well as for the renovation of schools.

Translation: We are going to dump a boatload of cash into property acquisition this year, for a building we won’t start to build for another 5 years, just because it’s been in the plans for a long time, and we feel like it’s finally time to get to it. Also, despite what the Attorney General of VA says, we totally have the right to handle all the School Board capital improvement stuff.

Jeff Sheler: Do you think the new library also will provide an economic boost downtown? Mayor Linda Johnson: Thanks Jeff. Absolutely, the one way the city can aid in the downtown development is by putting dollars in facilities where our citizens will gather. When they come to the library, they will eat in a restaurant or shop in a store. The new Municipal Building and the library will become anchors for downtown. It is important that we give people a reason to be downtown.

Oh yea, because when I think about where I might want to hang out downtown, City Hall is tops on my list. /eyeroll

Comment From Chris What plans if any do you have to overcome the economic impact resulting from RT58 being the only practical link between central and south Suffolk with the rest of Tidewater? Mayor Linda Johnson: Hi Chris. Actually, there are multiple connection points, one being the new 460. Our new upgrades to Nansemond Parkway ensure that that route will be a more viable alternative. The new transportation package recently passed in Richmond will give our transportation organization, of which I am a member, the dollars to put in place future roadways that will help all of Hampton Roads.

Translation: If construction on 337 ever finishes, it will be another connection point, and I’m sure that people will totally use the new tolled version of 460 the state wants to build. Plus, the General Assembly passed a massive tax hike, that raises sales tax an extra 1% for the whole Hampton Roads area, with the money to towards Roads. I’m sure that IF Governor McDonnell throws away his political career and signs HB 2313, that Suffolk will be tops on the list of places to get our hands on that money. I mean, it’s not like Norfolk or VA Beach have more people & more traffic or anything.

Comment From Guest What is your opinion on the tolls that Portsmouth is getting ready to face on their tunnels, I’m sure some of the workers in Suffolk may be affected by it as they may travel through Portsmouth to get to Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson: I, as everyone, am not a fan of paying tolls on our roadways. However, the fact remains that there are not enough dollars to fund our basic transportation needs without a combination of revenues. The public/private partnership legislation that allowed the Midtown tunnel deal was flawed and I believe the General Assembly is working to rectify that. We look forward to the transportation package passed in Richmond as a means of funding in a fair and equitable manner.

Translation: Tolls stink, and it was a bad plan, but there isn’t much I think we could have done about it. But don’t worry, that HB 2313 will totally leave us swimming in cash for the roads, IF Gov. McDonnell signs it.

Jeff Sheler: We have time for one more question. Comment From Guest Do you support having a professional sports team relocate to Hampton Roads? Surely Suffolk would reap some of the benefits as would all of the local cities, right? Mayor Linda Johnson: I certainly don’t object to a professional sports team relocating to Hampton Roads and would probably enjoy it, I would want to know the deal was in place before dollars were spent and certainly would not want the taxpayer to bear unneeded burden. Suffolk, as all local cities, would reap some of the benefits.

Translation: Woo! Money! Hopefully they wouldn’t ask Suffolk to build a stadium for them though, because we’re broke.

Jeff Sheler: I’m sorry we were unable to get to all of the questions. If we didn’t get to yours, please feel free to send your questions for the mayor to Debbie George at dgeorge@suffolkva.us. Thank you, Mayor Johnson for joining us today. Mayor Linda Johnson: Thanks again for having me. It’s been a real pleasure and I look forward to joining you again.