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City may need to dip into contingency fund

Since summer the city of Sunnyside has pledged to keep its $1 million contingency fund intact despite a nearly $1 million budget shortfall between the jail and police funds combined.

With 2012 approaching - and with jail revenues continuing to fall and police overtime still on the rise - the city may have to break into that lockbox after all.

That's according to the deputy city manager and chief financial officer, Byron Olson, who recently provided a financial status report for the city through the end of October.

"If we don't change what we're doing we're going to run out of money," he said.

Olson and City Manager Mark Gervasi cautioned council earlier this year that at the current pace of expenditures the city would essentially break the bank by the end of 2012.

As a result, Gervasi and Olson are presenting council some options to consider for the budget in 2012. That includes a $20 car tab fee that Olson says would generate about $150,000 per year.

Council will also be asked to consider raising utility taxes from 6 percent to as high as 24 percent. Olson said 24 percent is the average utility tax rate in Yakima County and some cities, like Grandview, have a rate as high as 40 percent.

If council signs off on hiking utility taxes to 24 percent, then Olson figures that will add another $300,000 to $500,000 a year into the city coffers.

In a cost savings move, council is also considering a proposal by Gervasi to cut three positions from the budget. That would save the city $250,000 a year, Olson estimates.

That's not to say Sunnyside is waiting until 2012 to save money. Olson said the city is cutting back on non-essential purchases.

In addition, Olson said the city's legal costs are also starting to decrease, falling more in line with what the city would pay if it hired an in-house attorney.

He noted having the police department fully staffed at 31 officers should help decrease or minimize overtime costs.

There are also some areas of good news as the city prepares to close out 2011. Namely, tax revenues are on target. In some cases, the city is actually exceeding its anticipated take. Sales tax revenues, for example, are on track to be at least $50,000 more than expected in 2011.

In other revenue pluses, Olson says the city should receive in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 from a recent jail contract with the city of Ellensburg.

In a bit of mixed news, Sunnyside's on track to receive at least $100,000 more than anticipated in court-related fines.

Olson says that's because the city has added court staffing for a higher caseload that increased due to more officers on the streets making traffic stops. He also notes that a collection agency has helped the city in collecting some past due court fines and fees.

But the good news in court revenues is muted somewhat as the city's expenses have increased in processing a caseload this year that will number about 1,300, up 30 percent from the 1,000 or so cases in 2010.

There's another bit of good news for Sunnyside budget-wise with the recent flurry of holiday shopping.

"In February we'll receive the sales tax revenues from Black Friday," Olson said.

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