On Thursday evening there was the second of four public meetings on the City Budget. 58 residents attended the session at Princess Anne High School.
Upon arrival participants were given documents with the evening's agenda, germane facts and figures, plus a survey. The meeting was called to order by City Manager Jim Spore, followed by presentations by Catheryn Whitesell (Director of Management Services), Councilman Jim Wood, and Vice Mayor Louis Jones. Afterwards, residents broke up into groups to discuss three questions.
The group questions were as follows:
1. In this recession, what should the City by doing and not doing?
2. What, if any, revenue sources should be considered to close the funding gap?
3. What other budget ideas should be considered?
There was a City employee recording all input.
Personally, I found the questions on the written survey even more interesting. Would you accept a Property Tax rate hike that was revenue neutral? What areas should be off-the-table for cuts? Other comments? However, the big question was where we were given 15 specific spending areas and asked if we were willing to pay more, the same, or less for them? The 15 areas: Fire, Police, EMS, Schools, Recreation Centers, Parks and Open Space, Museums/Cultural Activities, Public Health, Roadway Construction, Libraries, Economic Development Initiatives, Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Garbage Collection, Social Services - help to low income families, and Mass Transit (bus service).
For those on the fringe right who love calling me names ("liberal", "tax-and-spend", "socialist", etc), I cut in 8 of the 15 areas, holding in 4 others. (In contrast, a Department of Human Services employee sitting across from me cut nowhere while increasing spending in several categories.)
After the groups sessions were over, participants were asked to turn in their surveys and dismissed.
For others who want to sound off, there are future opportunities:
1. There are two remaining such meetings this Fall: November 18 at Green Run High School, and December 3 at Kellam High School. Residents should preregister through the Department of Management Services.
2. The FY 2011 Budget Hearings will be on April 22 and 27, with the locations to be determined.
3. Council is slated to adopt a Budget for FY 2011 on May 11.
The Presentation of the FY 2011 Budget to City Council will be on March 23. However, the public may not address the Budget on Presentation Night.
There were several notable personalities present. In addition to Councilmen Wood and Jones, Councilmen Davis, DeSteph, and Dyer also came. Beth Allen of the VBTA, author of their hatchet pieces on Town Center and the light rail Community Advisory Committee, walked over and introduced herself. Yes, Bob (Anti-Everything) O'Connor came. 3 members of the 2009 CCO Board of Directors participated, as well as 2 nominees for the 2010 Board. Finally, I spotted a Republican former Legislative Aide and a ranking VBPD Officer.
Once the public meetings are over, all input will be compiled and posted on the City's website.