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Employee cuts recommended to balance Sunnyside budget

The City of Sunnyside is facing nearly a $400,000 deficit with its 2005 current expense fund. As a result, Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell is making some proposals that could mean some major changes in the make-up of city operations.

To help compensate the deficit the city is facing in 2005, Stockwell is proposing the elimination of Parks and Recreation Director Tom Byers' position. Stockwell is also proposing several staff cuts within the police and fire departments.

Stockwell released the draft of the 2005 budget to Council members on Monday. The 2005 budget totals $28.5 million, which is spread across 20 separate funds within city operations. The major fund, though, that is of concern is the current expense fund, which covers the basic operations of the city. The 2005 current expense fund budget is $5.6 million. Revenue for the current fund comes from sales and property taxes, various franchise fees and the various charges for services.

More than 70 percent of the current expense fund is spent on personnel.

Stockwell said the 2005 current expense fund is facing a $393,910 deficit, and to bring the budget into balance he is proposing some major personnel cuts. The Sunnyside City Council will be holding several public hearings on the 2005 budget beginning Tuesday, Nov. 9. The Council is scheduled to adopt the 2005 budget on Dec. 6.

"Over the last several years there has been some real changes in the revenue stream," said Stockwell.

One of the biggest areas of decreased funding for the city came with the loss of the vehicle excise tax from the state. Stockwell said inflation and the cost of employee benefits have also cut into the revenue for the city.

"The revenue stream is not growing fast enough to keep up," said Stockwell.

Under Stockwell's proposal, the elimination of Byer's position would result in the parks and recreation department becoming a division within the public works department. A recreation coordinator would be hired to oversee the department with the position reporting to the public works director.

The city is currently looking at privatizing the public works department. Stockwell said even if the city does privatize services for the public works department, the parks department would remain separate. Stockwell explained that the city would still need a public works director to oversee the contract with the firm that provides privatization services. The recreation coordinator would report to the public works director.

For Byers, the elimination of his position would mean the end of an 18-year career with the City of Sunnyside. Byers didn't offer much comment except that he was disappointed with the proposals. Byers will have the opportunity to state his case for the parks and recreation department on Wednesday, Nov. 10, as he presents the 2005 budget to Council.

"I am disappointed, but we will see what Council does," said Byers.

Stockwell is also proposing that the city eliminate the fire marshal position, as well as two firefighters spots within the fire department. Based on civil service requirements, the positions most likely to be eliminated would be those with less seniority. Stockwell said if the proposal does go through, the two positions within the fire department that would be eliminated would be those of two firefighters on active military duty right now. The fire marshal, which is a vacant position previously filled by interim Fire Chief Aaron Markham, will be handled internally.

The police department will not go unscathed either under Stockwell's proposed budget cuts. Stockwell is proposing to eliminate three police officers and one corrections officer position. Stockwell said currently all but one of the positions is vacant within the police department.

To help increase revenue, Stockwell is proposing a property tax increase to Council. However, Council has made it a practice over the last several years to not increase local property taxes.

To help fund ambulance services within the fire department, Stockwell is suggesting the city reinstate the ambulance household fee, which will be charged to local residents and businesses. The fee is expected to generate an additional $70,000 per year.

Later in the year, the city will be looking at possibly raising fees for services such as water, wastewater and garbage. Any fee increases, Stockwell said, will go to pay for required improvements to the wastewater treatment plant.

Stockwell described what he is proposing in the 2005 budget as "reality."

"It is just simply reality," said Stockwell. "This is what it takes to operate in today's environment. We don't have a choice."

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