Beach City Council approves 2018 budget, despite protests from flood victims

(Liz Kilmer/WAVY Photo)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach City Council voted to approve the next fiscal year budget on Tuesday, despite protests from flooding victims.

The operating budget was approved 8-3, with councilmembers Jessica Abbott, Bob Dyer and John Moss voting no. The capital budget, which was voted on separately, was also approved. All but Abbott and Moss were in favor.

“I can’t imagine why most of you people got reelected, because you don’t do your jobs,” one citizen shouted in chambers, receiving applause.

Ahead of the vote, flooding victims and supporters stood outside city hall, holding a peaceful demonstration in their fight for more storm water relief funds.

“Our Money Is The Only Thing Going Down the Drains,” read one of many signs held high. People passed a microphone back and forth, sharing their stories. Some said their families still remain out of their homes following Hurricane Matthew.

“I don’t think any of us could hardly stand to go through this again,” one man said.

Many took their pleas before council.

A public hearing was scheduled to weigh in on an alternative proposal from councilmembers Abbott and Moss. That plan involved using available light rail funding sources and revenue bonds to pay for more flood prevention work, and faster. The vast majority of speakers urged council to go with that plan, and reject the city manager’s.

But ultimately, the latter was approved. It provides $300 million on stormwater improvement projects, over the course of 15 years.

“If we wait that long, it’s not if it’s gonna happen, it’s when their homes will be flooded again – and we’re gonna put them through that, again?” one citizen said.

After hearing the concerns, Councilman Dyer made a motion to defer voting on the operating budget. He noted concerns over whether enough money is being dedicated to stormwater improvements, as well as the proposed tax increase for funding full-day kindergarten.

Dyer later rescinded his motion, upon the mayor’s persuasion. The city attorney explained that legally, the city manager’s budget would take effect if a budget is not approved 30 days before the end of the current fiscal year; additionally, state code requires a decision on education funding to be approved by May 15.

Mayor Will Sessoms called Hurricane Matthew a 500-year storm but stressed that still, council cares about getting stormwater improvement projects in gear as soon as possible.

“This entire council wants to do it right but regrettably, doing it right is gonna take some time and that’s not a cop out, it’s a fact,” the mayor said. “I do not want citizen’s expectations to be something that is not reality.”

He noted the need for many other areas to receive funding — education, roads, tourism. But still, he said, stormwater projects are receiving big increases.

Councilwoman Shannon Kane voted in favor of the city manager budget, calling it a “start,” but promised to fight for stormwater management and urged fellow councilmembers to “be vigilant.”

She, along with councilmembers John Urhin, Rosemary Wilson and James Wood have drafted a resolution directing the city manager to “find efficiences and streamline project delivery to alleviate stormwater impacts and chronic flooding upon residents.” The resolution, which will be voted on next Tuesday, also requests periodic updates from the city manager.

Moss said the city manager’s budget is “mitigation – not flood prevention.”