Grandview budget talks turn tense

GRANDVIEW - A menu of suggestions to meet a 2008 deficit of $320,000 brought out more than sharpened pencils during a Grandview City Council study session last night.

Councilwoman Pam Horner was adamant from the get-go that the city's library not merge with the regional system, as was referenced on the budget idea list. It's a move that would have saved the city $210,000 per year. Other council members agreed, but the city may need to cut a library tech position and close the doors early on Thursdays next year to make the budget work.

The exchanges got even sharper during a public comment period, as resident Walt Bratton criticized Mayor Norm Childress' comment that the $3.50 proposed monthly increase in city utility taxes amounts to only about one cup of coffee. Bratton said he didn't know where the mayor bought his coffee, but that his only cost him $1.

Bratton stormed out of council chambers when Childress-who said he was "flummoxed" at the exchange-asked him to hold his budget comments until later in the meeting.

Had Bratton stayed, he would have seen the $3.50 climb to about $14 in additional monthly costs to residents.

The proposed four-fold hike over previous estimates is in part because council took a serious look at doubling water and garbage rates and leaving sewer rates untouched so as not to offend industrial users of the city's sewer system.

Councilwoman Jan McDonald feared that if sewer rates tripled, as was originally planned, then it might scare off industry and result in a loss of jobs. John Myers handles the city's books, and he concurred, noting that industrial companies already face monthly sewer bills ranging from $2,000 to $100,000. "This has significant impact for industrial users," Myers said of the proposed sewer hike.

If council opts to double water and garbage rates and leave sewer alone, then residents would see those bills go up by $5.75 per month. A suggestion by Councilman Robert Morales to have two police officers on duty overnight instead of one would hike that amount by about an additional $1 per month.

While the city utility hikes would balance the budget for 2008, council also leaned towards submitting a measure to voters next February that would raise private utility taxes, such as for telephones and the internet, from 6 percent to 8.5 percent. That would raise the cost for residents an additional $7.50 per month.

If voters approved the measure, they would be paying about $14 more for utilities in 2008-including the proposed city utility tax increase. The private utility tax hike would generate an additional $400,000 in annual revenue for city coffers.

Council hinted that if voters approved the private utility tax hike, then there may be a move to trim back the water and garbage utility tax rates.

Also making comment last night was former council candidate Larry Bolan, who questioned why a $260,000 rig the city's public works department sought was still in the budget.

The rig allows city crews to unblock sewer lines without having to send a man below. Public Works Director Cus Arteaga defended the purchase, later approved by council last night, because of the man-hours it would save and because of safety concerns in sending workers underground in potentially dangerous situations.

In other budget discussions, Morales questioned the process in granting the fire chief, city administrator and assistant police chief raises totaling $25,000 in 2008. Morales said he would liked to have seen more performance reviews before penciling in the proposed wage upgrades.

Morales also felt the city should take a closer look at the assistant chief position since it was begun as a transition for the police chief post. It's a transition that hasn't happened, he noted.

Childress defended the wage increases, noting they bring those positions in line with other cities in the Yakima Valley. He agreed with Morales, though, that there may be a need to re-evaluate the assistant chief position.

Childress later explained the assistant position came about in anticipation of current chief Dave Charvet's retirement.

The mayor added that Charvet did retire a few years ago, but was re-hired at a cost savings to the city because part of his income is now covered by retirement pay.

Council will convene for one more budget session on Monday, Dec. 3, just prior to its regular meeting. Final action on the budget will likely come during a meeting on Dec. 10.


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