Millions in projects halted as Newport News city council votes down manager’s spending plan

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Council members took turns throwing each other under the bus following a vote that halts progress on millions in city projects.

Mayor McKinley Price’s sigh came through loud and clear in council chambers Tuesday night.

By a 4-3 vote, with Price, Vice Mayor Tina Vick, and Councilwoman Dr. Patricia Woodbury voting for, the Newport New City Council rejected City Manager Cynthia Rohlf’s FY 2020-24 Capital Improvements Plan (CIP).

The nearly $548 million document puts forth a 5-year-plan to fund new construction and buildings maintenance projects, as well as major street, bridge and sewer repair projects.

While council still must approve each project individually, projects listed in the CIP are required to be budgeted for by the City Manager and brought forward for a potential vote.

None of the projects in the CIP can move forward without an approved plan, City Spokesperson Kim Lee said. She admits she can’t recall the CIP being voted down before.

However advocates from the Newport News Education Association had lobbied for the denial saying it “shortchanges Newport News Public Schools.”

“School buildings receive just over half the funding per square foot that City of Newport News buildings receive even though NNPS buildings have far more occupants,” said Mary Vause, a preschool teacher and NNEA member who often spars with members of council over school funding.

While the educators and the majority of council have often been at odds, Tuesday enough members voted her way, even if they had different reasons.

“I take issue when the city continues to spend money for private development for some, and not for all,” said Councilwoman Dr. Saundra Cherry, who represents the city’s south district. “I am not going to vote in favor of the CIP because I feel I need to take a stand, because we are either going to do it for all or none.”

Cherry was referring to public-private partnerships underway in City Center and Oyster Point that have the city paying for parking garages.

“I feel as though the north district has been neglected,” said Councilwoman Sharron Scott, who represents the area. “The projects moved off the CIP this time, they were in the north district … I just have a real problem with that.”

Following the vote, Rohlf explained the plan could only include what the city could afford.

“We’ll go back and talk about the concerns … I understand concerns about development … but they are already in the works,” Rohlf explained.

Mayor Price said he was disappointed council members didn’t speak up with issues with the CIP before the vote. A draft was presented to council five times, according to a memo from the city manager.

“I hear a lot of ‘my district, my district’,” Price said. “We need to speak as one voice, we are one city.”

Scott appeared to take slight offense to the comments, saying she has long supported economic development projects in other areas of the city.

The City Manager will have to bring the plan back for another vote.

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