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Sunnyside Council raids piggy bank to pay 2012's bills

In some of its final work for 2012, the Sunnyside City Council last night approved a budget amendment that grabbed $802,000 from a contingency fund to balance the books for 2011-12.

The large budget shortfall resulted, in part, from jail revenues that were far less than expected largely due to changes in how the U.S. Marshals house federal prisoners.

The city had $1 million in the contingency fund, which was set aside for emergency situations.

"I support the idea of a rainy day fund, but folks it's pouring outside," Councilman Jim Restucci said Thursday night in support of the budget amendment.

Theresa Hancock was the only council member to not support the amendment, claiming council could have taken steps earlier in the year to avoid drawing from the contingency fund.

"We had a year to watch that," she said. "It wasn't like the jail blew up in one day." She said the city needed to live within its means this year and did not.

Hancock noted the danger of depleting the contingency fund is that it won't be there in the event of an emergency.

That includes the potential for fire or other event that would cause the city to lose a major rate payer. In that scenario, she said emergency funds could tide the city over temporarily with the loss of revenue.

Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger countered that Sunnyside's fiscal straits weren't caused by council decisions but by lack of information from previous staff members.

"We went six months without budget updates," Vlieger said. "Mr. Sweet inherited a mess and most council members who saw the books knew that."

Thursday night's decision was the last vestige of a troubled two-year budget cycle experiment for 2011-12.

"Our city's experience with the two-year city budget has proven itself to be a failure," said Councilman Jason Raines. As for returning to a one-year cycle for 2013, Raines said he was "...pleased that we're making that change."

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