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City's 2006 budget $8.65 million

A remodeled city hall, expanded park services and a return to hiring new employees are hallmarks of the $39,407,108 total budget approved by the Sunnyside City Council Monday night.

Of that amount, $8,650,309 is allocated for 2006's general operating budget, just over $1 million more than 2005 and nearly $3 million more than the actual general budget expenditures in 2004.

The ending fund balance for 2006 will be $4,333,279, down nearly $700,000 from 2005's budget.

The new budget contains more than $800,000 for parks, a 50 percent increase from 2005. Improvements in Sunnyside parks will include hiring an additional maintenance employee, improved ballfields and a skate park at Sunnyview, resurfaced tennis courts at South Hill and a leveled gully for easier access at Central Park.

In addition, the city pool will receive repairs to the slide infrastructure and there will be a new picnic shelter roof at South Hill Park.

The city will draw $200,000 from the general fund to remodel and expand city hall. Tentative plans call for a unified front entrance, rather than the two entrances as it is now, and privacy cubicles for staff in working with city residents.

Besides adding a parks maintenance worker, Sunnyside will bring on eight more new employees.

The new jobs are an administrative assistant position in public works, two dispatcher/correction officers, one fire investigator/SWAT paramedic, a part-time court clerk, an interim building inspector, and an information technology technician.

Total salaries and benefits for all city of Sunnyside employees, including the new hires, will add up to $7.3 million for 2006.

Even with the additional staff, Sunnyside is still down six jobs from before 2004's hiring levels.

In addition to its new hires, the police department will receive tasers for each shift and new police radios. The fire department will run a new fleet of three ambulances.

Another change for 2006 will be the availability of "paperless" council minutes and agendas. The city will spend a total of $26,500 next year on technical upgrades and a video system for the city council chambers.

As permitted under state law, Sunnyside will raise property tax levels by one percent next year. Also, the ambulance household utility fee will increase from $3 per month in 2005 to $3.18 per month in 2006.

Sunnyside will also be increasing water and sewer fees in 2006, pending the completion of a utility rate study now underway.

It is anticipated the city will look at rate increases sometime in the first quarter of 2006, primarily to help fund the wastewater system improvements.

After four meetings and about 10 hours of discussion, there wasn't much left to debate when council approached its decision regarding the 2006 budget this past Monday.

But the issue of a real estate excise tax, proposed by staff and dismissed by council at an earlier meeting, was again raised.

Councilwoman Carol Stone revisited the one-quarter percent tax increase proposal, citing a concern for sustained park funding in the future.

Mike Farmer, sitting in his final meeting as a councilman, previously led the opposition to the tax, and did so again Monday.

"We've raised property taxes and water and sewer fees will have to go up next year so we have to just say stop at some point," Farmer said.

As before, Mayor Ed Prilucik agreed, noting that two new council members will take office next month. "I don't want us or the new council members to have to rush a decision," he said.

The issue died when Stone pledged to continue the conversation next year.

Rather than make home sellers support parks via a special tax, Farmer suggested the creation of a voter-approved park district that, he said, would allocate the parks funding equally.

"I'm glad you brought this up," outgoing Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar told Stone. "This is a discussion that we need to have."

Council approved the budget with Farmer casting the lone dissenting vote.

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