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Council divided on $49,000 police department review

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Newly sworn in Sunnyside Police Officer Wesley Rasmussen, the 29th officer on staff, Monday receives his badge. Pinning it on him is his wife, Kim.

The Sunnyside City Council did not see eye-to-eye last night when a contract for consultant services for a review of the police department was up for approval.

The contract was approved with Councilmen Don Vlieger and Mike Farmer expressing displeasure over the move.

Vlieger said he feels the spending of $49,000 in public funds for a study and review of the police department's performance and management practices is a waste of money.

"The city has spent thousands upon thousands upon thousands...for studies," he said, stating many studies that have been conducted in the past have been shelved, ignored or dismissed.

Vlieger said there was a study of the fire department in 2000 that cost the city more than $30,000 that has only been referenced for response times.

Following the council meeting, it was confirmed with Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham the study of his department was shelved for a period of time, but was used to establish more recently the department's need for a fire station.

Forward progress has been made as a result of the study, he said.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock during the council meeting said, "This (study) is not about scrutiny, but best practices."

The police department's 2011 budget is approximately $5 million. More than $3 million of the budget comes from the city's general fund.

The city's overall budget for 2011 is $29.1 million.

Hancock said the city needs to know what the police department needs, to know how it can be more effective and more efficient.

She views a study of the department as a win-win for everyone.

"If we're going to continue funding the police department needs, we need to set long-term goals," said Hancock.

Vlieger named human resources and public works as departments in need of studies, saying the city should look to those departments before the police.

He also said the police department could conduct its own study, saving the city the cost of hiring a consultant.

"Other departments in the city seem to be in much more need of scrutiny than the police department," said Vlieger.

He said he reviewed the work of the consultant approved last night and believes the work does not justify the expense.

"It's not like we're swimming in money...it's discretionary funds," said Vlieger.

Hancock said she believes the study will help council to better make decisions regarding funding for police services and equipment needs.

"We have to have a plan and focus to ensure we are providing the right equipment for the officers," she said.

Deputy Mayor Nick Paulakis said, "Maybe they will tell us we need officers 32 and 33."

He pointed out the city will continue paying millions of dollars for police services and the council is better off if they are fully informed of the department's needs.

Mayor Jim Restucci said the city has spent more than $1.5 million for police services. The council approved the acquisition of new police vehicles after the budget was passed and he questions why those vehicles were not mentioned during budget discussions.

He believes a study of the department will prepare the council for future needs and help eliminate surprises when budget items are discussed.

"If we look at the long-term we may find out the direction we need to move," said Restucci.

Vlieger, still not satisfied, said, "If we have to start with an area of hemorrhaging money, why don't we start with public works?"

He listed a number of public works projects he believes were mishandled.

"Somehow an $11.8 million sewer project was built for over $19 million," said Vlieger.

He continued, citing a well project, the South First Street improvement project and a lack of weed control as examples of problems with the public works department.

Vlieger said the money being spent on the police department study could be put to use for the purchase of a second K-9 and a vehicle for the K-9 and its handler. He believes three automatic license plate readers could be purchased for $49,000 or in-unit cameras for 10 police vehicles.

Farmer said he believes the police department has had to become reactionary because of underfunding and understaffing issues.

Now that those issues have been resolved, he said he would rather take the $49,000 and put it in the hands of the police department.

In spite of the two councilmen's arguments, council approved the consultant services for a review of the police department by a 5-2 vote.

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