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Grandview ponders rate increase for utility users

GRANDVIEW - Working with figures submitted by department heads in August, the Grandview City Council struggled more than an hour Monday night to find a way to make up a $208,000 shortfall in its preliminary budget without taking the problem to its citizens.

This was the second go-round for the council, who had researched options earlier, but hadn't yet decided whether to cut services or find other revenue sources.

The bottom line at last night's meeting was that more money had to come into the city's coffers, if the city is to maintain the level of services it's been providing.

The council looked at several suggested rate charts before selecting a rate that will jump the 6 percent tax on water, sewer and garbage to 17.5 percent for both water and garbage, but will leave the sewer rate at 6 percent.

"That option is best for large industries and will let us maintain our $441,000 reserve fund," said Mayor Norm Childress.

The rate increase will mean that people using city water will pay an additional $3 per month for water and an additional $1.06 for garbage.

A Dec. 5 budget hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. at city hall to hear public comment.

"I wish we had 500 people here tonight," said Childress, who added that it is discouraging to hold public, budget hearings that aren't attended by the public.

At the beginning of their discussion, Councilwoman Helen Darr spoke against raising the water, sewer and garbage rates, citing the difficulty those on fixed incomes would have in paying the $3.29 more each month, an increase that was first suggested. By the end of the discussion, Darr, along with the rest of the council, opted for the rate schedule that would be slightly higher.

Childress said he believes their decision was based on what they feel is their need to protect the city's reserve fund.

"That $441,000 reserve is our rainy day fund, our emergency fund in case of disasters," said Childress.

The $208,000 shortfall lies within three city funds-current expenses, streets and cemetery-where expected revenues would not be enough to pay the expenses projected by the department heads.

When Darr suggested making cuts to reduce the shortfall, she was joined in her concerns by Councilwomen Joan Souders and Pam Horner, as well as Bill Flory, who pointed out that he is one of Grandview's citizens who operates on a fixed income. But all of them expressed their faith in the city's department head's preliminary budget figures.

"I think we're right in the ballpark. Our department heads have bent over backwards to cut corners without cutting productivity or quality of what they provide to the community," said Horner.

"There's nothing I would like better than to bring to you a budget that is balanced," Childress told the council. "I don't want to make people suffer, but I don't want the streets to be bumpy and parks to have weeds in them.

"Maintaining what we have is like putting oil in a car. You might not put oil in at 3,000 miles when it's recommended. You might put it in at 10,000 miles and get by with it for awhile. But later, down the road, it blows up on you. We can let things go and they can get worse," concluded Childress.

The tax rate the Grandview Council is considering, while higher than the current 6 percent, still compares favorably to water, sewer and garbage taxes charged in neighboring towns. The rates were collected by city staff for consideration by the Grandview Council.

Toppenish' rate is 38 percent for each of the utilities, Wapato's is 23 percent for each. Zillah's is at 30 percent for each. Granger's is 36 percent for each.

Only Moxee, Mabton and Sunnyside have the same 6 percent on each of the utilities that Grandview currently has.

Prosser's taxes are the lowest, charging 6 percent on water and 6 percent on sewer, but nothing on its garbage fee.

The council's struggle Monday to find revenue while holding the line on services is a continuing battle for cities that no longer have the motor vehicle tax to plug holes in their budgets.

"When you lose it in one place, you have to make it up in another," said Childress.

Grandview's total budget for the three departments under discussion Monday is $5 million. The total of the City of Grandview's budget is $16,852,000 for 2006.

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