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Mabton Council fields more financial requests

MABTON - Despite the fact that the 2008 budget has long since been adopted, Mabton City Council members continue to receive requests for money.

The city received a total of four financial requests last night. The first was a $10,000 stop-gap funding request from Prosser Memorial Hospital, then a request from Yakima Valley Conference of Governments for more than $19,000 to complete the city's comprehensive plan for growth management. Public Works asked if funds were available for street improvements and continuing benefits for dependents of police officers was also discussed.

Julie Peterson, Prosser Memorial Hospital's Chief Financial Officer, spoke to council about the city kicking in $10,000 to fill a financial void created by a glitch in Medicare repayments.

The hospital is currently trying to form two ambulance districts in Yakima and Benton counties as a long-term measure. This would have to be met with voter approval. In the meantime, the hospital is asking cities and counties who utilize the service to make a one-time payment based on the number of calls in the area.

According to Peterson, the city has until March 15 to decide whether or not they will pay. She said that while ambulance services in Mabton would not be cut-off, response times would be longer if there is no financial support offered by the city.

She also made it clear to council that the hospital would accept payments, as opposed to one lump sum of $10,000.

On Dec. 31, after the 2008 budget had been adopted, the city received a bill from the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments for more than $19,000 to complete the city's comprehensive plan as required by the state's Growth Management Act. The city is past the December 2007 deadline to complete the plan.

Drew Miller, representing the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments, last night presented council with a scope of work itemizing the costs. He did this upon request of the Mabton City Council, as there was some confusion when the city received the previous bill.

Councilman Mario Martinez asked Miller how the city could save money and Miller responded that perhaps the city could work on the land use element to some extent on their own.

The city did not make a decision regarding the matter.

Public Works Director Tootie De la Fuente asked city council members if there was funding available to repair city streets. De la Fuente was asked to get estimates for the work, as the request was too vague.

Association of Washington Cities Employee Benefit Trust Program Coordinator Carol Wilmes was present at the meeting to discuss insurance options for the city.

When city council passed the 2008 budget, it did not include insurance coverage for the dependents of police officers. However, police officers were not notified. Because of that, city council members decided to extend benefits until the end of this month.

Interim City Clerk Ret Stewart said that it would be possible for police officers' families to be covered, but for the officers to have the amount deducted from their paychecks and Wilmes concurred.

Police Chief Robert Perales stated that he was "dead set against" the city ceasing to pay for insurance coverage for the dependents of local police officers.

Martinez said, "I sure didn't hear you say that when we were going line by line (through the 2008 budget) for two and a half months."

Perales asked that insurance coverage be continued until Wilmes or someone from her office can work out an agreement with the police officers to continue coverage.

Because the meeting was adjourned prior to making a decision, a special meeting is slated for this Thursday, Feb. 28, at 5 p.m. at City Hall to determine if the city will continue to pay benefits past Feb. 29.

The requests for funding prompted Stewart to request a moratorium on city spending for 30 days.

"We are in a situation that is very, very serious and each time we come to these council meetings, (there are requests for money)," Stewart said. "Quite frankly, you need a moratorium to find out where we stand (financially).

"I don't know how we can keep on voting on something when we don't know what's in there. I am really concerned. We have to find out what our bottom line is (financially)."

She added, "We can't say yes to anybody until we know where we're at."

Councilwoman Shelly Mireles agreed, saying the city needs to "slow down" on spending.

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