Sunnyside has a $1.7 million surplus. What to do with that money is part of the contrasting views that voters will encounter when deciding the Sunnyside City Council, District #3 race between challenger Don Vlieger and incumbent Carol Stone.
Vlieger owns the Sunnyside Inn Bed and Breakfast and previously served seven and a half years as a city councilman.
He says the city needs to take the new-found money and use some of it to hire more police officers, including a pair of drug dogs.
"All traffic stops would be subject to a drug dog search," Vlieger said of taking care of the drug problems that often accompany criminal gangs. "We have to let the criminal community know they're not wanted here."
Vlieger says he is seeking a return to council because of what he sees as a series of missteps by the current city council.
The issue that Vlieger says was "over the top" and prompted him to jump in the race was the firing earlier this summer of former city manager Eric Swansen after less than a year on the job.
"There was no evaluation until he was fired," Vlieger said. "There was no chance for improvement and the guy had just bought a house. What was the urgency?"
As for the stormwater utility rates council approved during Swansen's watch, Vlieger did say he felt the rate - which assessed unusually high rates on large farm lands - was a shell game used to help balance the general fund. He noted that existing equipment and personnel were being funded by the stormwater funds.
Stone agreed with Vlieger's assessment and both say the way to proceed from here is to assess the miminum amount of money needed to do a stormwater utility as mandated by the state.
As for the $1.7 million the city now has at its disposal, Stone said the city should save the money.
"We should save it in a contingency fund for an emergency," she said. Stone says she's not in favor of spending the money until the city and its council can get a sense of how the economy is going to go.
Vlieger and Stone disagree on how the city got to the point that it went from a projected $1 million budget deficit last October to a $1.7 million surplus.
Stone says council wasn't given the figures and requests for updated information from the former finance director weren't met.
Vlieger says it's council's job to know how much money is available. "It's not the finance director's fault," he said.
With two city managers fired in less than two years, Stone said the key to finding someone to fill the post long term is communication with all council members, not just one or two. "If they don't understand that there will be problems," she said.
Vlieger says the city could consider looking not only to the public sector for a new city manager, but to the private sector as well in an effort to find the best person for the job.
Both Stone and Vlieger agree it's best for the new manager to be hired after January 2010, when council will be seated following the November general election.
Stone says she's seeking a second term in vying to be on that council in January because of "unfinished business."
She noted her emphasis of unity in the community is finding a foothold, as groups such as Transformation Sunnyside and the Loving Sunnyside Initiative have made great strides in working together to benefit the city. She also praised gang reduction efforts by Sunnyside's Promise.
A hot topic has been the status of the Sunnyside Airport. A layout plan for the airport has been up in the air and for more than a year has resulted in a moratorium on land use changes for neighboring properties.
Vlieger said the city needs to be prepared to buy up land if it wants to limit what private property owners can do with their land. "When you take property rights you have to compensate," he said.
Stone said a recent flight from the local airport has prompted her to have a view that's more toward a future that envisions an upgraded 4,000-foot runway and the restrictions that it would have on property owners. "I may not be here, but I hate to have Sunnyside limit its possibilities," she said.
Vlieger has law enforcement roots from his days as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff and says that experience is one of the reasons voters should consider him for the council seat. That, plus his previous council experience and presence in the business community are all factors for voters to consider, he said.
Stone says voters should consider her long-time roots in the Sunnyside community and her focus on unity. "I love this community," she said. "There are so many opportunities for people to help." She added, "There's nothing we can't accomplish when we work together."