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Cutting to the Core

You get what you pay for

Grandview residents recently voiced a resounding NO to a proposed 1.5 percent hike on their private utility taxes.

The proposed tax hike came about because the city's general fund can't sustain current spending levels.

Faced with this problem, the Grandview City Council set out on finding a solution, taking direction from the people they work for, the residents of Grandview.

Public meetings were set up where council members and city department heads laid out the problem to the public. The questions asked were, will you support a tax hike and if not, what services do you want cut? I was at one of the meetings and the general feeling I got was the residents wanted to keep city services.

With that in mind council fought off a permanent 2 percent tax hike city officials wanted and instead settled with asking for a 1.5 percent hike, with the new tax being withdrawn Dec. 31, 2010. It was the council's wish that city residents pay no more than to keep city services afloat for the next two years. After that, they would figure something else out.

My gut feeling is council members thought the tax hike would get them out of the budget jam for the next two years and then things would get better, hoping more money would come in.

I personally don't think that's going to happen. I think money will only get tighter and expenses will only continue to rise.

But in May Grandview voters said no. Faced with rising fuel and energy prices, added with the rising cost of food and just about everything else, Grandview residents couldn't see giving the city any extra cash.

There were also residents who vehemently opposed any tax hike, with the most vocal being Grandview resident Larry Bolan. He led the anti-tax charge by e-mailing media, council members and just about anyone he could think of, to lay out his case against any tax hike.

His solution is to lay off city employees and to be more selective on the city's spending. He cited several examples where the city had spent money he didn't think they needed to.

Whether the city needed to spend $256,000 on a new truck that cleans sewers without a public works employee actually entering the sewer could be debated for a very long time. The same could be said about the automated water meter reading system or the emergency generator for the city's water system.

City officials will point out the new equipment will save time, thus saving man hours, thus saving money. Bolan sees it as money misspent.

The problem is, these items came out of an entirely different budget. The general fund does not support these items, the public works fund does. State and federal laws dictate how a city can spend its money and Grandview can't just take the needed money from the public works fund to spruce up the general fund. It just doesn't work like that. That money has to be spent on public works projects.

Sewer and water rates weren't raised to pay for these items and according to Grandview Public Works Director Cus Arteaga, Grandview has the lowest water and sewer rates in the Yakima Valley.

He also stated that 500 new homes have sprouted up in Grandview in the last three years, which means more meters to read, more roads to sweep and more sewer lines to clean. Arteaga also claims new employees aren't being added but more duties are being asked for the current employees.

Like I said, the need for this new equipment could be debated, but if this equipment hadn't been purchased, the general fund would still be in the same mess it is now.

So what can Grandview residents expect in the next two years? Simply put, a cut in services. About $153,393 worth of cuts. Right now council is working on where to make those cuts. They're working real hard, too hard in my humble opinion. If I was on council I think the decision would be easy.

Grandview residents have spoken. They would rather have services cut then pay an additional $48 a year in private utility taxes. I think that makes it simple.

The city will spend $82,540 this year on its aquatic services. In other words, the pool. That would be gone if I was on council. No pool, sorry Neptunes.

I would cut the remaining amount from park maintenance services. Grandview parks might look a little more shabby and the grass a little browner, but hey, you get what you pay for.

This would still leave recreation, museum and library services untouched, but those would be on my target list if any more money needed to be saved.

There aren't many alternatives. Do you think council will cut the police force? I would hope not. Grandview doesn't have a very high crime rate but I would think residents would want to keep their officers. When it comes to police, it's better to have too many than not enough. Just ask Mabton residents.

At the end of 2010 the county's three-tenths of one percent law and justice tax will reach its sunset. Does anyone think under the current climate that tax will be voted back in?

That tax funds three Grandview police officers. So after 2010, the city of Grandview will either have to lay off three officers, or find more cuts in the general fund to pay for them. There goes the library. So long senior center.

Now I could be wrong, maybe the city will take Bolan's advice and make city employees pay a portion of their health insurance. Maybe council will gut city hall and work with a skeleton crew. Johnny E. Grandview might even win the lottery and donate it all to the general fund, leaving everyone feeling warm and fuzzy. I don't know.

But I do know when the summer of 2009 rolls around and the pool in Grandview remains empty and the park grass is brown and crunchy, Grandview residents can only thank themselves.

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