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Sunnyside Council broached with another police expenditure

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Councilman Don Vlieger states his opinion about the need to know the various titles of staff members currently employed by the city.

The possible purchase of the Choices/Bridges building and whether or not alarm services should continue to be provided by the city were among the topics discussed at last night's Sunnyside City Council workshop meeting.

The Choices building, now known as Bridges, is located next to the Sunnyside Law and Justice Center.

According to City Manager Mark Gervasi, Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck approached him about the possibility of purchasing the building from the Sunnyside School District to allot more space for the police department.

Schenck told the city council his department needs space for offices for the gang unit and the traffic safety coordinator. If the city decided to purchase the Bridges building from the school district, exercise and training equipment would be moved into it.

Sunnyside Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rick Cole said the discussion comes as a surprise.

The building currently used by the school district was the direct result of funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce.

The decision to house a program for students with gang ties was a cooperative effort between the city and the schools.

The Department of Commerce awarded the funding ($150,000), stipulating the program for students at-risk or involved in gangs be run for 10 years.

If the building is to be sold, said Cole, the program must be moved to another facility for the same $150,000.

Cole said the school district would like to see the program run from a building closer to its high school and other programs like the skills center.

"The school district has no desire to see the program go away," said Cole.

He emphasized there has been a collaborative effort between the city and the schools to provide the Bridges program. He said there is a Bridges oversight committee that also must be involved in the discussion, but ultimately can nix it.

"I haven't even had time to brief the Sunnyside School Board on the matter," said Cole.

He questioned how the discussion got on the city council's workshop agenda, stating the deputy police chief said he needed more space and suddenly the discussion was on the agenda.

School Board Director Miguel Puente serves on the Bridges Oversight Committee and said he believes that committee should have the opportunity to discuss the matter before city council makes any decisions to further pursue the purchase of the Bridges building.

Mayor Jim Restucci said the city council needs to further discuss whether or not to direct its own members of the oversight committee to enter into discussions on the matter.

He said the deputy police chief needs to present a plan for use of the facility before council can move forward, directing its oversight committee members further.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock, concerned regarding how such a purchase might impact the city budget said, "I'd like to see where this fits into our budget...we need to think long and hard before committing any more money."

The city council moved from that discussion to the city's alarm services.

The city of Sunnyside has been providing alarm services for its citizens for approximately 20 years, according to Schenck.

He said there is a concern as to whether or not the city could be sued because it is competing with private enterprise.

Competing with private enterprise, such as unlocking car doors for citizens, resulted in lawsuits in the past, Schenck said.

He said that is why police officers no longer provide that service and he feels the alarm service is akin to that.

Schenck said the police department's receiver for the alarm service is obsolete and a study of its cost-effectiveness led him to conclude it is not.

There are 108 subscribers, of which 81 are paid subscribers, he said.

The city, said Schenck, is providing a basic service to those subscribers and the police department has responded to 971 alarms in 2010-11.

Schenck said 700 of those automatic alarms were generated by the city's service and only one of them was an actual burglary. Of the 209 calls from private alarm companies, five were actual burglaries.

He said responding to false alarms is dangerous for the citizens because officers travel at high speeds with lights on when doing so.

Schenck also believes the safety of citizens is at risk because officers could be serving them in other ways if they were not responding to what amounts to a false alarm.

"I believe there would be a 90 percent reduction in alarms if we discontinue the service," said Schenck.

After further discussion, the Sunnyside City Council decided to forward the matter to the administrative finance committee for further review and study.

Councilman Mike Farmer said, "It's gonna come down to dollars."

Also, briefly discussed was the need to have a full account of city staff positions and responsibilities.

The council expected to have in hand a list of every staff position.

Councilman Don Vlieger said, "We need to know what positions we have in the city."

He said without the knowledge of what positions are currently in place and filled, it is difficult for the city council to bargain with the employees and unions.

Gervasi brought with him an organizational chart he developed, but it wasn't what council wanted to see.

The council members were also surprised to see a community development department on the chart.

"There is no community development department," said Vlieger, stating council never approved the title of the department.

Instead the department is the building and planning department.

Restucci told Gervasi, "You can have the city planner report to you, but you cannot turn the position of building and planning into its own department (separate of public works)."

They told Gervasi the department operates under public works and the supervisor can report directly to the city manager, if he desires, without being a department director.

The city manager was instructed to bring the names and titles of positions of staff members to a future council meeting for review and discussion.

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