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City's financial outlook shaky...Sunnyside eyes hiring freeze

Barely a month ago, Sunnyside city officials felt the city could make it through 2012 without dipping into a $1 million contingency fund.

Last night, Monday, the news was that the reserve fund will be spent completely by the end of 2012 if the city doesn't make budget changes.

That was according to a presentation by Sunnyside's CFO and deputy city manager, Byron Olson.

During an Aug. 30 workshop Olson said the city's plan was to leave the contingency funds alone.

But last night's workshop brought a more dire prediction as the general fund - which covers most of the city's day-to-day costs - will have a shortfall of more than $400,000 due to a deep reduction in jail revenues.

Olson says federal officials are sending fewer prisoners to outlying jails and for shorter periods of time.

Olson, backed up by City Manager Mark Gervasi, said the jail's issue isn't poor management - but the sudden drop in federal inmates.

"The days of our jail being a revenue source are gone," Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck told council. He added that the jail is already at barebones staffing, with one dispatcher and one corrections officer available for each shift.

Talk at last night's workshop then shifted to proposals to help the city right the budget and avoid dipping into reserves.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock suggested the city impose a hiring freeze on all staff vacancies, including a new police officer position that has not been filled.

Gervasi noted that current vacancies include an administrative assistant position in public works, a position in the street department and the assistant finance director post.

Gervasi said he has a proposal for more cuts to present to council at its Oct. 24 meeting. In notes provided for last night's meeting there was an indication of not only staffing cuts, but consolidating some city programs.

Councilman Paul Garcia asked Gervasi about having each department in the city "scrubbing the budget" to see what cost savings could be available.

Olson suggested a combination of both cuts and fee increases to balance the budget in 2012.

He says getting back to even could be a long process.

"There's no silver bullet," Olson said of fixing Sunnyside's budget problem. "We're going to solve this problem in $25,000 and $50,000 chunks."

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