Name: Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky
Biography: As a citizen, Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky has been engaged in Portsmouth’s local government for 21 years. He has shared what he’s learned with the public through the website PortsmouthCityWatch.org.
1. Why should Portsmouth residents elect you to City Council?
Because I care — about my neighbors, our children, our neighborhoods, our schools, our first responders, our public employees, our city services, our civic infrastructure, and our shared future. So,
I prepare – by observing, listening, researching, reflecting, and conversing with people who have pertinent information and a stake in the outcome. Then,
I dare – to speak up, individually and in concert with other concerned residents, to bring about change that serves the greater good or to preserve what serves the greater good from undesirable change. My pledge to my Portsmouth neighbors is to provide responsible representation consisting of:
- conducting your business in a citizen-centered manner;
- making myself available for regular, open exchanges about civic issues;
- ensuring you have timely access to relevant information that allows your participation in the decision process;
- keeping an open mind on local policy items until you are afforded the opportunity to weigh in;
- keeping track of municipal finances so as to use our limited tax dollars as efficiently and with as little waste as humanly possible; and
- improving the livability of Portsmouth by making certain all neighborhoods have equal access to city services without regard to socioeconomic status of the residents.
Over the past twenty-two years, you likely have seen me in action as an advocate for the best interests of our community and as a frequent visitor to your civic league meetings and neighborhood events. Unlike a number of others for whom such advocacy and community presence are “seasonal” pursuits – restricted to campaign seasons now and again – mine has been steady, faithful work, week after week, council meeting after council meeting, for better than two decades. Should you choose me on November 6 as one of your three city council representatives, you have good reason to expect that same constancy over the four years of my term in office.
2. What is the most pressing issue facing your community, and how would you address that issue?
Our most pressing issue is ensuring that our schools support student achievement in a safe and intellectually stimulating atmosphere. The future of our city and country depends on our children being able to compete in a global economy in which the job market will be in constant flux. The foundation that we lay during their first thirteen years of public education must enable them to acquire newer skills over the course of their work lives thereby adapting to the demands of an ever-evolving workplace. My contribution as a member of city council will be as a cooperative partner with my colleagues on the school board, ensuring that our schools receive local funding commensurate with their importance to our community rather than the “leftovers” that the current and several previous councils have been content to allocate. More specifically, I will advocate for funding at the level of 33% of local tax revenue and creation of a designated fund into which school system yearend surplus funds originally received from the city will be deposited for use as an ongoing reserve. Ultimately, I seek council consensus to push the General Assembly to grant elected school boards taxing authority, something other states already provide.
3. Where do you stand on raising taxes to balance your locality’s budget?
Raising taxes is never popular, especially when your city has the highest real estate and personal property tax rates in the region. That is why we need to be efficient in using the revenue we receive and avoid the temptation to seek quick fixes and chase the “bright, shiny things”.
Let me offer a few cases in point. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the city took two long-term gambles, the Renaissance Hotel and the Union Bank and Trust Pavilion, which were sold to the public as no-risk undertakings that would pay their own debt service out of their revenues. In fact, that has not happened, and the elected officials who should have been monitoring the actual return on public investment as part of the annual budget process have only asked for minimal reporting every once in a blue moon. The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, now vacant, was another “money pit” that made no economic sense as a public investment. It cost taxpayers over three million dollars in operating subsidies and two million in capital contributions. When the city enters into such partnerships, it needs to ensure that viable metrics for assessing investment performance go into the contracts and that “course corrections” are made in a timely way to protect the public interest.
Economic downturns, such as the “tech wreck” of 2000-2001 and the real estate implosion/financial crisis of 2007-2008, create hardship for governments at levels and taxpayers. Locally, the second of the two was particularly hard-hitting, driving real estate valuations significantly downward. Absent a tax rate adjustment, the consequent shrinkage in tax revenue can devastate a municipal budget. Good fiscal management involves reduction of spending on the least critical services, hiring freezes, and reductions in workforce, hopefully by attrition. If it comes down to turning out the lights or raising the taxes, though, I believe we have to raise the taxes. At the same time, we should provide relief, under the parameters established by applicable law, for taxpayers in financial distress.
4. What’s your plan to reduce crime?
Crime rates fluctuate year by year and depend on several factors but especially the economic opportunities for our working age populace. As noted in my answer to question 2, we need to provide our young folks a first-rate education. We need a public transportation network that can get our people to work and to school in a reliable and timely fashion. Our council has previously discussed a living wage initiative; we should pursue that through the General Assembly as we have Dillon Rule limitations on what we can mandate locally. Access to recreation and before and after-school programs will help our children avoid the “idle hands” syndrome that can contribute to criminal involvement. Our police chief and sheriff have both instituted outreach programs to build mutual trust and respect between the citizenry and law enforcement, including youth athletics, community policing, and neighborhood watch support. As a council, we should ensure that these initiatives have adequate funding. As my favorite geography professor at ODU often reminded us, “prevention is always more effective and less costly than cure”.
5. What are your community’s biggest infrastructure needs, and how do you plan to fulfill them?
As the second oldest city in our region, we have an abundance of aged infrastructure, including the northern span of the Churchland Bridge; drinking water, sanitary sewer, and stormwater lines; elementary and middle schools; and the County Street parking garage. Additionally, we are looking to relocate city hall, the police and fire headquarters, emergency operations center, and the jail away from flood-prone areas. Lastly, the city is examining a more strategic placement of fire stations. Fortunately, the Churchland Bridge, and some of the water and sewer line replacements are already funded, but we will need to prioritize and pay for the other needs incrementally to stay within our debt capacity.
6. What businesses and industries would you try to attract to your community?
As a land-locked city, Portsmouth would do well to adopt a “small is beautiful” approach, providing a nurturing environment in which to establish new enterprises and assist them in growing. As part of a regional collaboration, we have appropriated capital improvement funds and have received bids for connecting to the Southside Hampton Roads “Ring of Fiber”. When complete, this gigabit-speed, fiber-optic network will provide access to the recently installed trans-Atlantic fiber-optic cables in Virginia Beach, as well as to connectivity to present internet service provider networks and future 5G mobile telecommunication links. Portsmouth will be then be on a solid competitive footing to attract businesses creating jobs for a tech-savvy workforce. At the same time, bringing “jobs of the future” to town would increase the customer base for our existing commercial enterprises, invigorating the overall economy.