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City budget cuts imminent

Sunnyside Council considering elimination of some staff positions

Sunnyside Interim City Manager Mark Kunkler and Finance Director Jordan Arreola presented the city council with a draft of the 2008 budget last night during the first of two scheduled budget sessions.

"The budget is balanced but it's a budget that comes with some pain," Kunkler told the council. "There have been some cuts."

When the city department heads turned in their proposed expenditures for 2008, there was a $1.275 million deficit compared to what city staff projected its revenues to be.

Kunkler said during the summer of 2007, retail sales tax revenues were slow contrary to the city's initial budget projections. He noted to the council the agricultural community had a very good year in 2007, which should help recover some of those revenues, but the city has conservatively projected revenues for 2008.

Kunkler said in 2007 the city of Sunnyside hired six additional employees to put staffing numbers at previous levels. These positions were added with the goal to provide increased public services.

The city now finds itself in a position where it has to reduce personnel through eliminating current vacant positions, restructuring certain operations and eliminating certain employment positions.

Kunkler said the changes to the city have resulted in a higher level of service to the community, but have also carried higher costs. The city now finds itself at a point where the cost of providing services has exceeded available revenues.

The council reviewed half of the budget last night, planning to do the other half tonight (Tuesday) at the Sunnyside Law and Justice Center, at 6:30 p.m.

Among the portions of the budget discussed last night was personnel services, which caused a stir from the council. The person at city hall in that position provides human resource and payroll services for all city staffing, including recruitment, testing, job classification, salary and benefit administration.

A salary increase for the one-person department is projected at $7,400 in 2008. That would be a total salary increase of $15,442 in the last two years.

The recent increase in salary, the council was told, is due to a 3 percent cost of living increase and a step increase in the level of pay.

Councilman Bruce Epps and Councilwoman Theresa Hancock both expressed concern about giving such a big raise when the city is trying to save money.

Kunkler explained the position has a contract with the city and the raises are in it. He said he could talk to the employee and tell them the budget won't allow for the pay raise. The council advised Kunkler to tread cautiously.

"We could just eliminate the position," Epps told Kunkler.

Kunkler responded that was an option.

Last night it was also revealed that $175,000 has been lopped off the code enforcement budget, with $119,350 of that being money for salaries. It was proposed that one building inspector position, three-fourths of a property maintenance facilitator position, one permit technician and a quarter-time accounting assistant position be eliminated.

Hancock expressed a desire to get through the rest of the budget and then revisit the code enforcement budget. The wisdom being, she said, that maybe some additional money could be trimmed from other areas to save some of the positions in code enforcement.

It was agreed to move this particular part of the budget to the back end of discussion.

Also discussed last night was the elimination of a park maintenance position, which would trim $40,080 in salary costs from the city's recreation department budget.

Kunkler confirmed that recreation in Sunnyside is a priority to both the city and the council.

Councilman Bill Gant had reservations on cutting out the maintenance position, saying the person pulling the weeds is more important to the city than the person answering phones.

Epps asked the city manager if jail trustees could be used more for seasonal work instead of losing the maintenance worker. He was told it depends on whether the jail has enough trustees. Last summer for instance, the number of trustees was down due to the high number of local inmates. Jail officials prefer not using local inmates as trustees.

More information was requested by the council.

The 2008 budget for city attorney expenditures has been slashed by $60,280. Kunkler said this is mostly due to the city anticipating a resolution soon with the Tom Paul case.

Also reviewed last night was the city's municipal court budget, which shows a $29,910 increase in expenditures from this year.

The council was told the city of Mabton sends its court cases to Sunnyside, and that these cases made up 21 percent of the caseload this year through September 2007. The city of Mabton pays a per case fee to Sunnyside that, according to Kunkler, doesn't even come close to covering the costs of trying the defendants.

"It certainly isn't fair to Sunnyside residents to subsidize that," Hancock said.

Kunkler told the council he has recently sent a proposal to Mabton officials to renegotiate the contract, where the city of Mabton would pay a percentage of operating costs of the court based on the caseload. He said he is hoping to hear back from Mabton's mayor soon.

The 2008 draft presented to city council last night also shows that the budget for the city manager's position is $22,340 less than what was appropriated for this year.

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