Let the determined effort to vote new Virginia Beach City Council members into office begin. Question for the citizens of Virginia Beach: Do you want four more years of this Virginia Beach city Council?
Some citizens will say, “Yes, yes. We want more of the same.” These citizens are developers, owners of oceanfront businesses and have been joined recently by a newly-formed organization called Move Hampton Roads. These citizens can be called the Control Group because, when combined with our city Council, they control the decisions that affect our lives.
Other citizens will say, “Sure, why not. Things seem OK.” This group of citizens can be called the Uninformed. They are uninformed for many reasons: they are too busy with working for a living, caring for the family, helping their kids in school and don’t have time to keep up with city Council decisions and the consequences.
One other group can be called the Engaged. These people take time to study council’s decision making process, the data on which council may base a decision and other relevant information. The Engaged are sufficiently informed to challenge city Council on a number of their decisions.
A short review of a citizen’s survey conducted more than a decade ago will highlight the divide between citizen’s priorities and those of the Control Group.
Years ago, March 1, 2000 (Please note – 12 years ago) our Virginia Beach city council conducted a citizens survey and asked citizens to list major concerns and give council an idea of citizen’s priorities. Let’s review several of those citizen’s priorities of 12 years ago and determine which priorities received council’s attention.
1. Education/schools was identified as top priority by 63% of citizens. Until this past year, schools had been well funded. This year, council played games with the formula and forced the school board to agree to a tax increase.
2. Roads & congestion – 43% of citizens said roads were second priority. Twelve years later, as you drive along our so-called expressway are you continuing to enjoy the “thump-thump” during your morning commute? Kind of wakes you up. But is driving to/from work more pleasant ? Remember, citizens said this 12 years ago. Where are the improvements?
3.Lower taxes 24%. No wonder people were calling for lower taxes by 2000. Check the history of tax increases. In 1990, our real estate tax rate was $.87. The rate was increased by council through the years and reached $1.22 by 1999. From $.87 to $1.22 in only nine years – who wouldn’t request a break.
And some more history in case you forgot – Mayor Sessoms was on council during those years and voted yes for all those tax rate increases.
10. Let’s skip to number ten of citizen’s priorities – oceanfront improvements, 8%. A small percentage of citizens ranked oceanfront improvements way down the list. What has council done? Spent our money big-time on the oceanfront. Council recently discontinued the Tourism Growth Investment Fund (TGIF) after 17 years – 1993 to 2010.
At an average of $14 million per year, Council spent about $230 million during those years on oceanfront projects and activities. Add $50 million to beautify Atlantic Avenue, $52 million for the parking garage at 31St, and $307 million for the convention center. That’s more than $600 million on oceanfront improvements. (Um, how much on roads was that?)
8. Let’s step back to number 8 for comparison. Development of good jobs – 11%. Citizens, no doubt concerned for their children, requested that council concentrate on developing good jobs in Virginia Beach .
A review of the 5-year forecast of 2009 shows the poor mix of jobs in Virginia Beach. Of the estimated 185,000 jobs in Virginia Beach 49% are government jobs, only 6% are classified as “professional and technical services” and the remainder are “accommodation and food services” and other. Twelve years later, where are those good jobs?
This quick review shows that citizens voiced their priorities 12 (yes, 12 ) years ago but successive councils have followed their own Control Group priorities. Hundreds of millions of dollars for the oceanfront, forget the roads, no new good jobs and raise real estate taxes and other fees as necessary.
To repeat the original question: Do you want four more years of this Virginia Beach city Council?
The Control Group – yes, more of the same. Citizens should put in about $90 million (including interest) for the convention center hotel and many millions for light rail. The new Move Hampton Roads organization is in business to convince you to vote yes for light rail in the November election. The Control Group would say, yes, yes. (You can hear them now!)
The Uninformed – would say: Well, I suppose so. I didn’t know all this stuff. Maybe I’ll think about it.
The Engaged – no way. Enough. We need a council that puts citizens first.
Where do you fit in: Control Group, Uninformed or Engaged?