The Sunnyside City Council at Tuesday evening's special meeting discussed priorities and efforts to balance the city budget.
All agreed the budget is a top priority and there are measures that can be taken to address the city's current $15,000 shortfall.
One priority the council members agreed could be addressed through immediate action is the amount of overtime pay at the police department.
Councilwoman Theresa Hancock said all department heads, including the police chief, should develop a five-year plan to stay within the budget.
It was suggested that the police department, for example, could be allowed a maximum overtime budget. If the department head sees a trend that indicates the department may exceed that budget, he or she would need to discuss it with the city council.
Councilman Jason Raines indicated other areas also need to be addressed. "We need to be open to different approaches."
He cited the city's legal costs, stating there are different measures the city can take to reduce those costs.
Raines said he recently attended training provided by the city's insurance carrier at which a representative from the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington was in attendance. Raines said the organization exists to serve the municipalities in the state and the representative expressed an eagerness to hear from the city of Sunnyside when legal questions arise and advice is needed.
"We need to do what we can internally before we start talking about raising rates or taxes," Raines said regarding the budget.
Councilman Nick Paulakis received a consensus from the council regarding the use of city vehicles. He and the other council members believe there are employees taking vehicles home when the vehicles should be left at work.
Councilman Don Vlieger said, "The take home (of) cars with the current cost of gas can't go on."
He said exceptions would include the police and fire chiefs, the deputy chiefs and on-call personnel.
"We have guys putting 20,000 miles on a car," said Vlieger.
He said he has also heard from citizens who have seen city vehicles being used for personal reasons, stating it doesn't look good when an employee uses a city vehicle "to pick up lumber at Bi-Rite Lumber" when that lumber is not for the city.
Overtime at the police department, as well as the use of city vehicles, it was agreed, can be addressed in the near future.
Police Chief Ed Radder said he can keep closer tabs on the overtime and provide the city council with regular reports to address budget concerns. He said overtime has already been reduced by at least 50 percent.
City Manager Mark Gervasi said the city yesterday received the police department study. "The MGT report will help the council address overtime at the police department...it's a road map."
Mayor Mike Farmer said it would be useful if the council was also provided a report of running budget balances on a monthly basis.
"I think we can understand that," he said.
Farmer said any suggestions made at last night's meeting should be reviewed by the city's department heads. He wants them to review the suggestions and evaluate what will or will not work.
Other priorities listed at Tuesday's special meeting included the water and sewer rate study, the ambulance rate study, the city's employee handbook, the interlocal agreement with the Port of Sunnyside for operating the Sunnyside Municipal Airport, credit card policies and a number of other items.
Vlieger said, "One of the problems I believe we have is that we shotgun our priorities."
He said it is important to properly address each issue, especially the budget.