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Council says no to tax increase

After four meetings totaling nearly 10 hours the Sunnyside City Council finally said no Tuesday night during the fourth and final budget workshop.

Though they will not take action on the 2006 budget until next Monday, council had given initial consent to all budget items presented during the four workshops.

That is until the final item, a proposed real estate excise tax increase. City staff proposed raising the tax by .25 percent on the overall rate collected by the state.

The tax is paid whenever property is sold. Sunnyside currently receives $250 per $100,000 in property sales. The proposed increase would have doubled the amount received by Sunnyside to $500 in real estate excise tax for every $100,000 in property sales.

City Manager Bob Stockwell said the increase would generate $86,000 in additional revenue to be dedicated for city parks.

Councilman Mike Farmer was the first to oppose the excise tax increase, noting that residents and businesses should not be penalized for selling their property.

"I have a real problem with this," Farmer said of the tax increase proposal. "We continue to pay more and more taxes and it's time to put the brakes on it."

City Finance Director Scott James said the tax increase would give Sunnyside "a little more freedom to maintain the parks."

Adding support for the tax increase, Councilman Jim Restucci said, "What we're saying to people (with the real estate excise tax) is that you're investing in the community." Councilman Paul Garcia also expressed support for the tax hike as a "real vehicle" to fund parks.

The 2006 parks budget, increased by about 50 percent from 2005 to just over $800,000, contains sweeping improvements, ranging from resurfaced tennis courts and a new roof at South Hill Park to a new skateboard park at Sunnyview Park.

One thing all agreed on Tuesday is that $86,000 would remain in the parks budget, even if the excise tax increase was withdrawn.

And withdrawing the tax was exactly what council decided, opting instead to have the $86,000 paid for through the general fund, along with the rest of the parks budget.

The decision came after Mayor Ed Prilucik cautioned that asking for an excise tax increase with two new council members yet to take office would be unfair to the new administration.

Garcia agreed to put the tax increase on hold, as long as council would re-address it next year during budget preparations for 2007. Prilucik requested that the excise tax issue be brought up earlier in the budget discussion process next year.

However Sunnyside pays for parks in the future, Stockwell later noted the city will have to eventually find a long-term revenue source to pay for parks other than continually drawing from general funds.

The Sunnyside City Council is expected to approve the 2006 budget during its meeting next Monday at 6:30 p.m.

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