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Sunnyside's Promise proposal gets chilly reception from city council

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Sunnyside's Promise board member Nate Bridges presents the business plan of the organization to the city council that asks the city to guarantee the organization's future.

The Sunnyside City Council took no action last night on a proposal to provide money to guarantee the survival of Sunnyside's Promise, but voted to further discuss the matter at the Monday, Oct. 8, meeting.

Nate Bridges, a member of the board of Sunnyside's Promise, presented the plan to the city council in front of a packed crowd at the meeting. According to Bridges, the plan would be a bargain for the city because of the benefits the organization brings to Sunnyside.

Interim City Manager Frank Sweet recommended the city deny the request because of the city's current financial situation.

"Our general fund is strained in 2012 and will not be other than strained in 2013," he wrote in the staff report.

Bridges' proposal calls for the city to provide $217,000 up front to guarantee administrative costs Sunnyside's Promise will incur for the next year. This is $85,300 more than the amount the city provided to the organization in 2012.

Bridges said $77,000 of the amount was to run the community center and its recreation programs. The other $140,000 would be for Sunnyside's Promise administration costs.

Bridges said the organization would create a new bank account for all administrative funding it receives from grants and services Sunnyside's Promise provides. All money in that account would be returned to the city, he said.

Bridges said he knows the organization can reimburse the city $69,000 in the next 12 months.

"I'd like to be able to come in here a year from now and say, 'Gee, city council, we had kind of an average year, here's your $140,000 back'," he said. "I'd really like to be able to do that... and in the meantime I'll be able to say our community got an extra $500,000 in income and services because we existed and we set a model with the state on how grassroots efforts get up and take care of their kids and don't leave any kids behind."

He said the proposal would bring a lot of value to Sunnyside, and provided a handout to council members that detailed the grants the group has brought into the city over the last three years.

The key to Bridges' proposal is that Sunnyside's Promise does not know if it will be around the next year. If the city guarantees the organization will exist, Sunnyside's Promise can get more grants and bring even more money into the city.

He asked the council to dig deep into the budget for Sunnyside's Promise.

"I understand if you don't have the money, you don't have the money," said Bridges. "But you need to take into consideration what you're giving up. What your community is giving up."

Bridges also told the council that the Sunnyside's Promise board will be changing and the new board will consist of business people with the ability to raise money for the organization to make it self-sufficient in the future.

Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger had four counterpoints that he brought up. He first noted that Sunnyside's Promise Executive Director Mark Baysinger is paid a lot compared to similar positions in the city.

His second complaint was that the organization had not fulfilled its obligations to the city in that many of the recreation programs were not run during the summer. He said only 30 percent of the programs actually came to fruition, and he didn't want to bet it would be different in the future.

His third note was that accounting from the organization was hard to get, and the council had run into difficulties getting detailed information from Sunnyside's Promise.

The fourth point was the constant rumors that the city was cutting off the funding of Sunnyside's Promise, leading to people complaining to the council when there were no plans to cut funding. Vlieger said the employees of the organization were badmouthing the council.

"The organization has let down the city," said Vlieger.

Bridges countered each of Vlieger's points. He said Baysinger's salary costs what it costs. He said the recreation programs ran out of money.

The accounting issues were due to not having a person on staff able to do the work, according to Bridges. He said the communication with the city has been bad, and he wants to improve that.

As for the rumors, Bridges said those were a matter of perception, and due to a lack of communication with the city.

"We suck at communication, at least in the past, and I'm here to tell you we're trying to fix that," said Bridges.

Sweet said the city has run into potential issues with the state auditors on providing money to Sunnyside's Promise. The money given to the organization needs to be shown to be providing a service to the community. The documentation is still a problem and may result in legal issues for the city in the future.

Councilman Nick Paulakis spoke about sponsorship of the teams in the recreation program. He argued that more people need to contribute.

"I think we need to pass the hat a little bit," said Paulakis.

After the council took no action, most of the crowd that had shown up for that agenda item left.

Later in the meeting, Sweet asked if the council had any direction for staff regarding Sunnyside's Promise. He suggested putting the issue back on the agenda for the next meeting.

Councilman Jim Restucci suggested the issue be brought up during the budget process later in the month. Sweet said time was an issue. Whether or not the city decided to stay with Sunnyside's Promise, recreation programs need to be planned, he said.

Councilman Jason Raines then moved to deny the funding proposal from Sunnyside's Promise. His motion was seconded by Vlieger.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock noted that it would be seen as disingenuous that the council waited until everyone had left the meeting before voting on the funding proposal. Mayor Mike Farmer agreed with her. Members of the council urged Raines to withdraw the motion and postpone the vote until the next meeting.

"Don't they need an answer, right now?" asked Vlieger. "They need clarity now."

Other council members again reiterated that the vote should have been made earlier when the public was at the meeting. Raines refused to withdraw the motion, noting that the council was in agreement that the city does not have the money.

"Let's face it folks, this money is not going to come," said Vlieger. "It's not there. And I don't have confidence that they can run the rec program. They've already proven that they can't. And our kids suffered this year."

He then suggested the motion be withdrawn, as the votes might send the wrong message. Raines then withdrew the motion and the vote was rescheduled for Oct. 8.

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