Pink slips issued today to Sunnyside employees

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Residents of South 15th Street in Sunnyside came together last night for a barbecue and to talk about forming a block watch.

The Sunnyside Community Center is mothballed and two Sunnyside police officer positions are gone as of this morning, Wednesday.

That's because the Sunnyside City Council last night, Tuesday, gave City Manager Eric Swansen a greenlight to commence with budget cuts to meet a $1.1 million budget shortfall.

With no cuts the city is looking at a general fund that will go belly up by 2010, according to Swansen's projections.

Other cuts effective this morning include two code enforcement positions-essentially leaving the department with a skeleton staff-a permit coordinator, and recreation director.

In all, nine positions will be eliminated from the Sunnyside city budget. That doesn't necessarily mean nine pink slips will be issued today, says Swansen.

He noted after the meeting that some of the positions to be cut-like one of the police officers and the recreation director-are already vacant and will not be filled.

Those who are given pink slips today will have two weeks notice and the city will pay the next three months of their health insurance premiums-at about $800 per employee per month. Swansen said it will cost about $142,000 to transition out the released employees.

The city's parks and recreation program will in essence be gutted, with no funding in place for many recreation programs.

Further, city parks will have only the bare minimum of watering, weeding and mowing done. Swansen said the city will have to rely on neighborhood groups to keep the parks ship-shape.

The city's animal control contract with the Humane Society will soon get the ax, as council gave the thumbs up for getting the city out of the contract as soon as possible.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock expressed concern about the loss of code enforcement officials. Swansen said the city's codes will still be enforced, but in a different way.

When a resident calls with a complaint about a neighbor, for example, Swansen said the first thing that will be asked is if the person contacted their neighbor about the problem.

If a code violator refuses to listen to a neighbor, then the city will issue letters and within a week or two send out an employee to check on the status of the problem. Swansen said the employee will be whoever is available at that time, meaning it might be a parks employee who comes to check on a code issue.

As for animal control, the only complaints city police will respond to are reports of dangerous dogs that are loose.

Council, at least for now, is going to try and balance the budget without raising utility taxes on water and sewer.

Councilmen Bruce Epps and Jim Restucci were the only ones who favored raising the utility tax at last night's meeting. Hancock, Paul Garcia, Tom Gehlen and Carol Stone said they would not support the hike. Councilman Bill Gant was absent.

Garcia said the city needs to look at gaining concessions from union employees on vacation buyback and cost of living allowances before assessing the 2.5 percent utility tax rate increase floated last night.

"Everybody has to feel the pain," Garcia said of having employees share in the budget tightening needs.

Though the tax will not be increased, utility rates themselves will see a spike. Wastewater and sewer rates will go up by 15 percent next year, water by 10 percent and garbage by 6 percent. The ambulance fee assessed will also go up by 6 percent.

The city will also collect an estimated $200,000 each year now by assessing the utility tax rate of 6 percent on Port of Sunnyside wastewater customers.

All of the measures approved-and to be formally signed off on at next Monday's regular council meeting-will still leave the city $229,000 in the whole next year. In 2010 and beyond, the city will have an estimated annual shortfall of $87,000.

All of which means that if the city can't negotiate union concessions, the residents of the city could be looking at that tax hike after all.

During public comment to wrap up last night's meeting, three Sunnyside pastors-Nick Paulakis, Bob Widmann and Dan Hotchkiss-pleaded with council not to make cuts in police staffing.

"If you could guarantee us the same level of safety in our town by cutting officers, then that's fine," Paulakis told council. "But if you can't guarantee the same amount of safety then you can't cut officers."



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