Adoption of the proposed 2011-12 biennial budget for the city of Sunnyside, totalling $56.3 million, hit a snag last night.
Sunnyside Finance and Administrative Director Byron Olson opened discussions at the city council meeting by explaining council did not raise property taxes, nor water and sewer rates. He pointed out council did raise ambulance and EMS utilities by 4.5 percent in the biennial budget.
The tables turned when Councilman Don Vlieger proposed an amendment to the budget. He proposed the position of the public works director, currently held by Jim Bridges, be "deleted" from the budget.
The amendment failed by a 4-3 vote, but the council decided to table the proposed budget adoption until Monday, Dec. 20.
"The (public works director) position has grown and is now a half-million dollar impact," Vlieger said of the nearly $100,000 annual salary, pointing out the position also includes $25,500 in benefits and a $3,600 car allowance.
He said the public works director position is "redundant" because the city employs a public works supervisor, and the city manager and deputy city manager in 2011-12 will take over supervision of planning, building and code enforcement.
Vlieger said the public works director's responsibilities have been cut in half and he has not seen a benefit to having an engineer on staff.
"Council's job is to conduct cost-benefit and I, as a council member, didn't do enough to plan ahead," Vlieger said, stating he was one of several council members who years ago created the public works director position.
Councilmen Tom Gehlen and Pablo Garcia said they did not agree with Vlieger's decision to bring the issue before council as the budget was up for adoption.
The councilmen felt the issue should have been brought forward during one of the seven budget workshops that preceded last night's council meeting.
"I don't believe this is the proper time to bring this up...it will change the structure of an organization," said Garcia.
Councilwoman Theresa Hancock agreed, stating, "There's a more appropriate time for such a discussion."
Garcia said the city manager should be given time to evaluate the role of the public works director, and that City Manager Mark Gervasi has been working to organize the city's employment structure. Garcia said he didn't feel Gervasi has yet had a significant amount of time to decide how a public works director position fits within the organization.
Farmer spoke to those in disagreement with Vlieger, stating he, too, feels the public works director position is redundant and costly.
Gehlen entered the discussion, stating he felt the issue was a personnel matter and the council was not given sufficient information regarding the matter.
Hancock spoke again, agreeing with Gehlen. "It's a decision about one position and we need to discuss it at a later time and place," she said.
Mayor Jim Restucci spoke to the matter, stating he believes in smaller government. He said he feels the city government needs a closer look because it has increased in size over the years. Therefore, he felt the position of the public works director is no longer necessary.
"I feel this is a surprise attack," Garcia said in rebuttal. He said the issue should have been brought forward at another time, not during the final decision-making process.
"We should be asking how we got so out of whack and how the process got so out of whack...the fault is not the individual's," he said.
Vlieger answered, stating, "This position ballooned in pay and shrunk in job responsibilities."
Gehlen, Garcia, Hancock and Deputy Mayor Nick Paulakis prevailed when the amendment failed by a 4-3 vote.
The council intends to discuss the matter further with Gervasi at this coming Saturday's council retreat to be held at Calvary Conservative Baptist Church (908 Woodward Road in Sunnyside). That meeting is open to the public and begins at 8 a.m.
In light of the discussion, the adoption of the proposed 2011-12 budget also failed 5-2. Hancock and Garcia voted against tabling the budget.
The adoption of the proposed budget will again go before council at a special meeting set for Monday, Dec. 20, at the Sunnyside Law and Justice Center at 6:30 p.m.