Pickpocket Sighting at City Hall

Although the perpetrator in question is a familiar personage in our city, calling 1-800-Lock-U-Up, the Portsmouth Crime Line number, will not get him off the streets. What he is doing is not a violation of the criminal code. No, it is a time-honored political tradition: robbing Peter to pay Paul. Vice Mayor Paige Cherry’s job description allows him to lighten all of our wallets as long as he does so by city ordinance. Assuming at least three of his council colleagues vote with him this Tuesday evening, that ordinance will result in the imposition of higher vehicle registration fees in our city starting July 1, 2014.

Some may question my referring to this fee increase of $7 per vehicle per year as picking pockets (or purses), but speaking figuratively, I find the metaphor apt. The criminal pickpocket, after all, relieves us of our cash by stealth, and the “Cherry Initiative” has been as stealthy as a USAF B-2 Spirit Bomber. If you missed the April 7 City Council Work Session or a video recording of it, you would not have seen it coming prior to publication of the agenda for the upcoming council meeting on May 27. (If you visit http://youtu.be/V5CRClcSQ7I and fast forward 43 minutes and 18 seconds, you will see the discussion surrounding this increase, which is intended to provide an additional employee increase of one per cent and retiree increase of one-half per cent above the draft budget proposal of two and one per cent, respectively.)

I must digress for a moment to clarify what vehicles will be subject to this registration fee increase, because it is far more than what meets the eye. (The official list is available for the next few days at http://portsmouthva.gov/cityclerk/agenda/11.pdf. Read past page 1; the “beef” is on the following two pages.) In addition to the obvious ones—our family automobiles—it applies to motorhomes, trailers/semitrailers intended for human occupancy, taxicabs, private and public school buses, and church/Sunday school buses. Motorcycles, however, are off the hook, at least for the time being.

Council Member Cherry did not address in any public forum what the rational for increasing vehicle registration fees to pay for a supplemental salary/pension benefit might be. After all, salary and benefits for city staff is not a transportation-related item, so why increase a vehicle user fee to pay for it? This takes us back to the stealth aspect: vehicle owners will not feel the impact of this increase until June of 2015. Although the Commissioner of the Revenue or the City Treasurer will likely be on the front lines handling irate citizen complaints when those bills go out next year, the blowback to city council will come later.

What is also relevant to mention here is that the city council elections this November will also be history by May of next year. Public memory of Council Member Cherry’s leadership, and his colleagues’ support, should have faded, which means that the council collectively, rather than the responsible parties, will receive the blame. What Mr. Cherry hopes is that enough city employees and retirees who live and vote in Portsmouth will turn out in the election to offset any of the disgruntled citizens who may cast votes for his opponents.  It is the perfect crime . . . unless the citizens open our eyes and mouths before council votes.

This item is on the agenda as 14-199(c). Citizens can sign up until 7 PM on Tuesday, May 27, to speak on this issue. You can also ring some council members’ telephones between now and then, send them eMail at council@portsmouthva.gov, or knock on their doors at home. If you share my disinclination to having our pockets picked, make it clear that any council member who votes for this item will not receive your vote this November nor in November 2016. If we sit on our hands, the pickpocket wins, but If we take the matter in hand, we do.

Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky

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