BY BARBARA HENLEY
PUNGO — It is hard to believe that another month has gone by, and we still are not able to safely hold meetings and other gatherings. Certainly, if social distancing is what we must do to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, then that is what we must continue to do for a while longer.
Taking the chance that we repeat the experiences of the last month — and expecting our health care workers to shoulder the burden of caring for us all again at the expense of their own health and safety — should not be considered an option. Now, more than ever, we are called upon to be responsible and cautious so we don’t recklessly undo all of the good that has been done with our hard work and sacrifices.
Especially in bad situations, I believe we should look for the good. We have certainly seen the good in so many people who have pitched in to do the little things, as well as the major work, to help out. We have learned how much we depend on a whole network of people, all doing their jobs, to allow all of those things we have taken for granted to get done.
Certainly, we should all have a new appreciation for all that we have in this wonderful place that we enjoy so much and want to have back again soon.
Those amenities which we value are especially in our minds now because this is that time of the year when the city is working on the budget for the next fiscal year, which will begin on Wednesday, July 1. We are usually embroiled in continuous meetings and briefings, looking at all of the proposed projects and expenditures, to make certain that we are covering the most important needs in a fiscally sound manner.
Yes, we are working on the budget for the next fiscal year, but we do not have those usual opportunities for discussions and meetings, and that makes the process extremely difficult and challenging. The uncertainty of the future is devastating. Never before have we been called on to make such important decisions with so many unknowns. How long will this health crisis last? When can we safely begin to reopen the city? What is going to be the response of the global economy?
The questions go on and on, and none seem to have reliable answers.
When the staff culminated the work that they had begun last fall to develop a budget proposal to present at the end of March, we were just realizing that this health crisis was going to have a great impact on our economy and the ability to fund programs and projects which had been identified as priorities for the coming year. The proposed budget — which had so carefully been developed to address flooding, public building and workplace security, transportation needs, education, employee compensation and all of the other priorities that had been identified — would now have to be redone. This is where we find ourselves now.
As we go forward, I am inclined to think it is with “measured caution” that we need to proceed. We certainly want to maintain the current city services we have come to expect, and that is the path forward outlined in the revised budget proposal. The new projects and programs have been slipped out for future considerations. By keeping essentially the structures we have now and very carefully in the coming weeks and months monitoring the fiscal impacts of all that we are experiencing, we can determine if some of those proposed projects can be reinstated. Or, if the worst happens, if the economy falters even more and we have to make adjustments that cut back, we can do so with a better eye for how that can be done most responsibly.
I know that there is particular concern for the proposed capital projects in the Princess Anne District which have been long awaited and are slated to get underway soon. Since the West Neck Road project is funded, designed and ready to go, it should proceed as planned for construction to start this fall. Also, the Nimmo II access way into the planned Veterans Care facility will proceed. Proposed funding planned for this coming year into the coffers for the Sandbridge Road-Nimmo VII A is also still intact for a construction start in the fall of 2021. Also, since funding was already in place, the planned repairs for the Pungo Ferry Bridge will still go forward this fall. Work also had already been contracted to continue the examination of ways to perhaps address the wind tide effects and flooding in the Back Bay and the North Landing River. Other work for stormwater projects and maintenance also should still go forward.
One very successful project, begun over 20 years ago, has reached a new milestone. The overwhelming success of the ongoing Sandbridge beach restoration will allow for the reduction in the real estate tax rate of the Sandbridge Special Service District to 4 cents, a 2-cent reduction, and the elimination of the need for the Tax Increment Financing program. The audit of both of those programs showed that the very hard work of the community back in the 1990s to bring about this project was successful beyond expectations, and the project can be continued into the forseeable future with the reduced tax rate in the SSD.
Perhaps we can schedule a celebration following the completion of the current restoration project to properly recognize all of those people who worked so hard to make this program a success.
Of course, we will do the proper social distancing.
We can look at the success of the Sandbridge beach project, as well as other highly celebrated programs in the district, such as the Agricultural Reserve Program which now has preserved about 10,000 acres, and we can see how the community, by working together, can achieve what seems to be the impossible. These past achievements can serve as an inspiration for us now, when things may look pretty bleak, and let us know that we can do great things by working together for the common good.
One thing that I have learned in my historical appreciation of the past and the people of Princess Anne County and Virginia Beach is that those people were tough. Now, it is the time for this generation to carry on with that same determination and commitment.
I know that we can because Virginia Beach is strong.
Henley represents the Princess Anne District on the Virginia Beach City Council. The district includes much of the main coverage area of The Independent News. This was adapted from a recent note to her constituents.
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