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City budget deliberations continue

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Cartoon courtesy of Cagle Cartoons

Sunnyside City Manager Mark Gervasi and Byron Olson, the city's director of finance and administrative services, last night proposed the 2011-12 budget for administrative services to the Sunnyside City Council.

Those services include the city manager, council, municipal court, finance department, city clerk, legal services, human resources, code enforcement and community development, as well as several other budgets.

Gervasi told the council each of the budgets presented include highlights of activity completed in 2010, as well as proposed activity for the next two years.

His budget includes funding for formalizing, updating and implementing annual strategic plans for several functions of the city. Strategic plans for land use, transportation, public safety, environmental programs, fire safety and code enforcement are examples of the strategic plans Gervasi would like to update and implement.

The municipal court's proposed budget was presented by Olson, who said the city completed a review of the court operations and a cost analysis in 2010. The conclusion, reached by an outside consultant, was the best approach for the city is to retain its municipal court because the cost of an outside agency handling those court matters would be prohibitive.

The municipal court's public defender currently manages between 900 and 950 cases annually. Olson said the state Supreme Court has been reviewing case loads for public defenders and may limit case loads to between 400 and 425 cases per year.

If the court does rule in favor of the lighter caseload, the city of Sunnyside would have to hire another public defender.

Expenditures projected for the court services for the biennial budget are just more than $860,000. The city is expected to pay more than $248,000 in wages for full-time employees, however Olson projects a 9 percent increase in revenues collected from traffic fines.

The city manager's budget is projected to decline by 42 percent for the biennium, according to the figures presented to the city council. However, the greatest portion of that decrease is the direct result of separating the city clerk's budget from the city manager's.

The city clerk's budget, said City Clerk Deborah Estrada, was separated "to capture the clerk's services as a whole."

She has been involved in a process of converting city ordinances to an electronic format for ease of use and will be responsible for a review of the city's municipal codes. That process is expected to take two to three years, she told council.

The review will help the city revise codes, as necessary.

Olson next spoke about the legal budget, stating there have been gains in clearing outstanding legal matters with the assistance of Menke Jackson Beyer Ehlis & Harper, LLP, the city's legal firm.

"We're running at about $21,000 per month for legal services," Olson said, stating the fees are on a decline as the legal matters are cleared.

As a result the proposed 2011-12 expenditures are expected to be 32 percent less than the 2009-10 biennium.

Gervasi spoke to the council regarding the community development budget, stating he and Olson would like to explore the possibility of a revitalization project for Sunnyside's downtown corridor.

He said he plans to seek funding opportunities for such a project, including possible funding for facade improvements. The 2009-10 community development budget was just more than $324,000 and it is expected to see an increase of about $20,000 for 2011-12.

Olson next talked to the council about the recreation budget, which includes funding to support Sunnyside's Promise.

The largest expenditure in the recreation budget, he said, is operating the pool. He expects the pool season to remain intact. Council did, though, request the pool stay open through Labor Day weekend for the 2011 season.

Olson told the council the decision can be made as the season nears and staff will adjust schedules accordingly.

"Well, we requested it last year and we thought it was going to be open through Labor Day weekend, but it wasn't," Councilman Don Vlieger emphasized, explaining to Olson he wants a history lesson to be learned from that experience.

The conversation took a turn towards discussing funding of Sunnyside's Promise. In 2010 the city provided $75,000 in funding to the organization.

Council members expressed concern over how the funding is utilized, noting $15,000 of the overall funding was the result of a partnership with the Sunnyside School District and Sunnyside Community Hospital.

Councilmen Vlieger and Mike Farmer felt oversight is necessary to ensure the city is benefitting from the organization's efforts.

Farmer expressed his concern, stating, "I don't think we should be paying them just to keep our building (the Sunnyside Community Center) open."

The council members discussed the issue further, with several members stating Sunnyside's Promise needs to find other funding sources in addition to the monies provided by the city and its partners.

Olson suggested any funds the city awards Sunnyside's Promise in the future could be treated like grant funding. He said a grant has in place accountability measures to ensure the funding is utilized appropriately.

Mayor Jim Restucci commented on the matter, saying, "We need to give Sunnyside's Promise clear direction in the agreement."

Olson told the council that $30,000 is still in the recreation budget and has Sunnyside's Promise's name on it, but the funds can be used as council sees fit.

Gervasi entered the discussion, suggesting the council also explore the possibility of creating a voter-approved recreation district. A recreation district is funded through tax dollars and guaranteed funding would help establish long-standing recreation programs, like youth sports.

Also in the proposed 2011-12 recreation budget is $10,000 set aside for a new playground at Central Park, and funding to upgrade the softball infields at Sunnyview Park.

Council was reminded that earlier this year it established a $1 million contingency fund with monies from the general fund. That money, said Olson, is still in the contingency fund and will remain there until council decides it is necessary to use the funds.

"It is earning interest," he added.

The tourism expansion fund has a balance in excess of $100,000 and Estrada explained the fund to city council members.

She said there was a recent meeting of the lodging tax advisory committee and several recommendations were made for the use of the tourism funds.

Each of the recommendations, said Estrada, would require approval from the city council.

The recommendations included funding to the Miss Sunnyside Committee, the Port of Sunnyside and the Chamber of Commerce. The largest chunk of money would be provided to the chamber for four areas, including the Cinco de Mayo celebration, Sunshine Days, the Lighted Farm Implement Parade and a proposed tourism facility.

The funding for the tourism facility was recommended in the amount of $30,000.

Olson said $10,000 would remain in the tourism fund if all the recommendations are approved.

Ryan Austin, the city's technology director, was the last to share his proposed 2011-12 biennial budget with the city council.

He told the council his department has in 2010 been involved in upgrading several computer and software systems, including the new county-wide Spillman system for law enforcement.

"It's the largest project currently in the works," Austin said, stating the system is expected to be online at the end of November.

He provided the city council with a brief overview of the systems needing upgrades, including the city's phone system. That system, he said, is no longer supported because the company from which it was purchased was taken over.

The city's software systems, too, are in need of upgrades. Austin said the current version of Microsoft Office, for example, is out-of-date.

Despite the need to upgrade many technological systems, the proposed biennial budget is expected to be about $28,000 less than the past two years combined.

Council asked about funding for the information technology department, and Olson explained the department is funded by each of the other department budgets.

The Sunnyside City Council will Monday, Nov. 22, hold a public hearing on the proposed 2011-12 biennial budget, providing citizens the opportunity to be heard.

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