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Hefty increase in S'side property tax rate OK'd

Years of not raising property taxes has finally caught up with the City of Sunnyside.

In a 4-3 vote during Monday night's meeting, City Council members approved raising the 2005 property tax by 42ยข per thousand of assessed property value from the current rate. The new property tax for Sunnyside residents will be $3.1334 per $1,000 of assessed property value, up from the 2004 rate of $2.71 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The approved property tax increase will raise an additional $195,556 for city coffers.

The city will raise an additional $625,970 in General Obligation Bonds. The payments on the bonds are being made from when the city refinanced together the Law and Justice Center and the pool measures voters approved.

Council was split on the matter, with Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer and Councilmen Don Vlieger and Bruce Ricks wanting to scale back the property tax increase to $3 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Mayor Ed Prilucik, Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar and Councilmen Jim Restucci and Paul Garcia took the collective stance that the city needs to do something to raise money to prevent further reductions in city services.

But not everyone agreed with the thoughts of Council Monday night.

Sunnyside resident Bob Johnson said he felt Council should stick to past practices of not raising taxes. Johnson said that with the cost of living and water and sewer rates continually increasing, now is not the time to burden residents with an extra tax. Johnson told Council it will probably be seeing a lot of vacant homes in Sunnyside if property taxes are raised.

Carol Stone expressed concerns that Council was raising property taxes to pay for the $2.2 million purchase of Monson feedlot. Stone also said she didn't want to see property taxes raised because she felt it might encourage the city to spend additional money for items not needed.

Bruce Epps scolded Council for what he perceived as a mismanagement of the city's budget. Epps said because Council hadn't raised property taxes in a number of years that it backed itself into a corner, where it had no choice but to do so Monday night.

"You have mismanaged the budget. You have overspent," said Epps. "If you had done your jobs along the way, you probably wouldn't be at this point."

Aguilar sided with some of the concerns expressed by residents, but felt the city had no choice but to raise property taxes. Aguilar said that when the city is dealing with a budget the size Sunnyside has, Council has to make some tough decisions.

"We are at the point where we have to do something," said Aguilar.

Prilucik agreed with Aguilar, saying that if Council didn't approve the property tax increase the city would be faced with having to make more cuts to balance the 2005 budget. The mayor also explained the city receives minimal dollars from the property tax, with the county receiving a majority of the money.

Ricks said he wasn't in favor of property tax increases, but said there is a need to raise rates. Ricks, though, said he would like to see the Council go back to 1998 rates of $3 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the property tax. Ricks said he felt the city could "hold the line" and manage best what it has with his proposed rate.

Garcia said he was approached by residents over the weekend who were concerned with the personnel cuts proposed for 2005. But, Garcia said he saw the need to raise property taxes to help pay for needed city services.

"We do have to provide the basic services to our community," said Garcia.

Farmer agreed with Ricks about his thoughts on taxes, saying he would also like to see the $3 rate. The mayor pro-tem said he felt the city has to do something to raise money to prevent further service cuts. He said Sunnyside residents have been lucky for the past several years with seeing no property tax increases, while other communities haven't been as fortunate. He said the city has also taken money out of reserves to pay for mistakes that have been made by the county so as not to burden the local taxpayers. Farmer said he believes the city could be creative with how it uses city funds after receiving the money from the 3/10 of 1 percent sales tax county voters recently approved for law and justice services to address some budget matters.

Vlieger was quick to point out that the Monson feedlot purchase has nothing to do with the budget. Vlieger said the money spent for the purchase of the Monson feedlot will be replenished as soon as the property is sold.

Vlieger was also in favor of raising property taxes to the $3 rate. He said he feels the city has been doing fine with providing services, citing what the fire department has been doing without having two staff members available.

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