In my opinion the Pilot reporting of the Green Run budget hearing implies there exists tacit agreement from the citizenry with the apparent support by a majority of City Council who are ignoring the recent economic meltdown and who continue to increase city spending while refusing to consider laying off any of the city’s workforce. The Pilot reporting implies tacit approval exists for a “balanced budget” funded by raiding over 40 million dollars from the city‘s “rainy day fund” to maintain the status quo, instead of actually cutting the budget due to falling revenues. To assert such a conclusion is simply incorrect.

While it is true that many folks turned out to scold council for their failure to take adequate care of the animal shelter, the WHOLE story Tuesday night was a PACKED COUNCIL CHAMBER! A packed room with speaker after speaker explaining their frustration to council that the city's priorities were misplaced because too much tax money was being spent on special interests. “Special interest” to include several speakers mentioning Town Center, developers, and tourism. Most speakers were pointing out that too much money was being spent on “economic development” while too little tax money was going towards:

* Tax relief for overtaxed beach families

* Neighborhood revitalization such as providing Burton Station with basic city services of city sewage and city water

* Not enough funding was provided for staffing our few remaining historic buildings

* pleading for funding to be restored in the budget for 1 person to staff a new museum to remember the 1938 Union-Kempsville black high school - a high school paid for by black parents denied adequate K-12 education.

* Council’s failure to build a long promised Recreation Center near Baker Road

* asking for continued funding for the city’s handicapped services.

The common theme among the majority of speakers on Tuesday night was a message that the city needs to stop spending our taxes to support speculative ‘economic development” "wants” - and instead get down to the real job City Council is supposed to be doing - instructing the City Manager to provide a budget that adequately funds required core services while cutting the budget due to falling revenues and a very bad economic outlook.

Focus on real “needs” instead of funding “wants”.

This Tuesday Council Chambers were packed and people were lined up outside in the hall. THAT was the real story - and the Pilot chose not to report it.

Odd, the Pilot failed to report how many citizens turned out Tuesday night. Why? They made it a point to report EXACTLY how many citizens showed up at Green Run High School when only 6 spoke at that budget hearing!

The real story Tuesday night was that some city council members claimed that because only 6 people showed up to speak at the Green Run High School public hearing then obviously the residents were sending a message that everyone is fine with the city’s plan to maintain their over spending on multimillion dollar public-private “investments”. “Investments” such as their off budget vote to spend $60M MORE for Town Center and their proposed plan to spend millions of precious road funds for the Laskin Road “Gateway” scam - a projects largely designed to benefit Oceanfront developer Bruce Thompson’s current and future planned hotels.

The REAL STORY is both Council and the Pilot were wrong in their analysis of the Green Run budget hearing.

The REAL STORY is the Pilot’s decision to NOT to admit this fact in their coverage of the Tuesday’s budget hearing.

The REAL STORY is the Pilot’s failure to discover why so few people showed up at the Green Run budget hearing. If they did bother to do some research they might have to report that many citizens have come to realize that the “public hearings” on the budget are an exercise in futility and City Council isn’t really interested in what the citizen speakers at budget hearings have to say.

In Virginia Beach, money talks, and special interests are the only voices that most of City Council really pays any attention to. This year’s proposed budget is evidence to support this conclusion - that, coupled with decades of Council’s decisions to keep spending more - and more - and more. Since 2000 City Council and Jim Spore have increased the city spending by more than $700M - a whopping 68% increase! At the same time city debt has grown to well over 1 billion dollars! Council has millions to bail out financially mismanaged SPSA. Millions for Light Rail along the Norfolk Southern right of way  - a project the citizens rejected at the ballot box. Millions more for Town Center "investments". Millions for a nice-to-have Laskin Road “gateway” for the benefit of Bruce Thomson’s privately owned 31st street hotel - a project that voters also rejected at the ballot box! Still millions for more other “investment” at the Oceanfront are planned. When Circuit City goes out of business due to the bad economy, somehow City Council can easily find $5M to buy the property for a future Light Rail station. A Light Rail line that Mayor Sessoms promised during his campaign that he would support only after a referendum was conducted - and the citizens voted to pay for the new Transit-Oriented Development project.  But somehow Jim Spore and the City Council just can’t seem to find the money required to adequately fund required core services such as the animal shelter - or find a way to provide much need tax relief to financially stressed Beach families.

In spite of what the new Mayor and some council members stated after the Green Run budget hearing, it is now obviously that the citizens were NOT sending a message that they agreed with Jim Spore’s proposed budget - nor do they agree with the city’s proclivity for using the city’s taxes and debt capacity as some sort of a massive private bank to be used to fund private development.

IF the council was listening on Tuesday night they would have learned that they need to change their thinking and reprioritize city spending.

What I heard at the budget hearing on Tuesday evening was a message that citizens want council to do what Beach families are forced to do in these bad economic times; cut spending and lower debt. Frustrated residents waited patiently to explain to a seemingly out-of-touch City Council that economic times are VERY HARD right now and they can’t afford council’s extravagant speculative “investment” schemes.

What I heard was a message that serious TAX RELIEF is what is most needed now.
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