In seven days city council will likely be making one of the biggest decisions of the year and another that could affect us on multiple levels for at least two decades. The first and more predictable of these is adoption of the annual budget. The second is whether to approve a pair of post-2018 refuse disposal agreements with the Southeastern Public Service Authority (SPSA).
A lot can happen in a week in Portsmouth, which makes prognostication a challenge, even for the best crystal ball readers. Going by the published budget calendar and a fairly consistent historical trend, though, we have a reasonable expectation that council will vote on May 10 to adopt the FY 2017 budget in one form or another. With no overt tax or fee increases proposed, it should be a rather “wham-bam-thank you, ma’am” portion of the agenda. Surely, no flashpoints emerged at the public hearing last week, as evidenced by the relative scarcity of speakers at the citizens’ podium during the appointed time.
Still, Mudville is far from joyful. One current that has been pushing through the city for a number of months is concern over the levels of staffing among our first responders. Despite the belief by some on council that more police will not produce lower crime, especially homicide, rates, many citizens believe otherwise. In fact, when asked during the public interview process for police chief about the ideal complement for our police force. all three candidates offered estimates higher than our pre-freeze limit. Similarly, reports of sidelined emergency equipment due to short staffing among firefighters have drawn numerous expressions of concern over the past several months in a variety of community settings. The attitude of denial among certain members of council has not received a high level of public affirmation. Even so, only one lone voice at the budget public hearing addressed these issues. Absent an outpouring of public concern prior to the upcoming budget votes, the prospects for change during the next fiscal year are dim.
Regarding the future of waste disposal, May 10 may also be a key decision date. On March 4 of this year, the SPSA Board approved resolutions of intent to award the post-2018 regional waste disposal contract to RePower South and to submit post-2018 Use and Support Agreement to the SPSA member localities for their ratification. The deadline for acceptance of the RePower contract is currently May 15, which would make the logical date for council consideration and action next Tuesday.
The windows of opportunity on two key issues are closing. Members of the public interested in making their views known on either or both of these crucial matters should, therefore, communicate with our elected representatives within the next week. As the Use and Support Agreement spans at least fifteen years, what we do, or do not, this week will have long term consequences.
We urge our fellow citizens to research, reflect, and act expeditiously. The future you protect by so doing may be your own.