Can you balance the city budget without raising taxes or cutting police service? Here are a few ideas:
• Put all non-police/fire personnel on a 4/8 schedule. You can stagger start and quit times so you have coverage. They already are on 4/10's so this is not a stretch. If 50 of the approximately 100 employees are put on this schedule the city could see more than $500,000 (possible more) in savings. L&I and SSI contributions would also be reduced.
• It is time to enter into discussions with Grandview and possibly Mabton for regional police and jail services. If we work together the new force would require less overhead and probably provide better and deeper police coverage. There are savings for all three communities, possibly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
• We need to face a reality. Sunnyside is not a large enough community to support a full-time fire department. If you look around the state you will find few communities of our size, or even larger ones, that have full-time fire departments. Especially if you factor in our tax base, not just our population.
The only reason we have a full-time department is because of EMS. We need EMS. Why not enter into talks with Sunnyside Community Hospital to turn over the household tax to them and let them run EMS. The paramedics could be stationed in the emergency room and bolster the hospital's emergency room services when not on call. They would also gain incredible experience working in the ER. That would make them the best paramedics in the state. If the hospital is able to get the household tax and charge for the service of the paramedics when they are not on calls, they should be able to perform this service at a profit.
• Once EMS is being run by the medical profession, where I think it belongs, we should negotiate with Fire District 5 for cooperative coverage of the city and county areas. This will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly savings. Yes, our fire rating may go up, there is no free lunch.
• We need to look at doing our own fire dispatch from the police department. We now pay for this service. I believe it is at a cost of between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. We already pay for full-time dispatchers at the PD. They can provide this service and we would save the entire expense.
• The benefit package for the city employees was approximately $1,000 per month when I left the city council. I can only assume that it is more now. One of the reasons the cost was so high was that the city covers the entire family of the employee, and requires no additional payment from the employee. The school district requires payment for additional people on the employee's policy. At the least, the city could move in this direction.
If the city saves $200 per month per employee on benefits, it will realize approximately $240,000 annual savings.
What really needs to happen is to set up health savings accounts for the employees. The city and the employees would both benefit greatly. But the union thugs would never go for it because it takes money out of their control and gives it to the employees. Teamsters make too much money off of the health plan to look out for the best interest of their members.
• These are just some things that can be done to bring the city's budget into balance without raising taxes. Most of these proposals would not result in the citizens seeing any reduction in services. Some of the proposals would enhance current service levels.
With enough will and work it can be done, and the community will be better off for it.
Don Vlieger is a former, two-term Sunnyside City Councilman.