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City of Sunnyside eyes staffing increases

"It's pretty obvious to me that we are thin in some of our positions. Your administrative staff is very thin," Sunnyside Interim City Manager John Darrington said in backing a move to hire two more employees at city hall.

Darrington's comments came last night, Monday, during a public works subcommittee meeting.

He spoke in support of a request by Public Works Superintendent Shane Fisher to hire a public works administrative assistant.

"I'm by myself and it's impossible at times to get anything else done," Fisher says of having to man phones while at the same time directing a staff of 21 people responsible for maintaining the city's streets and projects ranging from the airport to downtown revitalization.

At one time, the public works office at city hall had three employees. Under former interim city manager Frank Sweet, the public works department was budgeted to hire a public works supervisor this year.

Last night, Fisher said he would like to instead see his department bring on an administrative assistant. The move would provide office support and a savings of up to 20 percent compared to the salary required for a supervisor post.

The three council members who sit on the subcommittee - Don Vlieger, Craig Hicks and Dean Broersma - were supportive of the move. They, however, directed Fisher and Darrington to bring the request, along with a job description and salary range, to a future city council meeting for further consideration.

The subcommittee was more cautious last night on a proposed second staffing increase, an administrative assistant/planning tech for the planning department. Pam Sandifer had filled the now vacant post until she retired last December.

According to Fisher, Planning Supervisor Jamey Ayling is working the phones and fielding 15 or 16 permits each week in addition to assisting staff with code enforcement.

However, according to city records the planning department issued a total of 37 permits last month - about nine per week - aside from those issued for code enforcement issues.

Fisher said a new planning department hire may pay for itself, as he pointed to a chart showing $93,303 in permit fees already received through the first three months of this year compared to $54,987 for the same period last year and $166,497 for all of 2012.

"They are inflated numbers because a lot of the big projects that bump that up weren't issued permits yet," Ayling said this morning.

Ayling said the figures for the first quarter of 2013 reflect permit fees already received from the $4 million YV Tech building near East Edison Avenue, as well as other significant one-time projects such as a $280,000 church addition, a $4 million new fire station and a $1 million upgrade for CSpeck Motors.

Ayling said fees for those projects with a combined valuation of nearly $10 million have been received, but permits were not issued as of the end of March.

He explained that the city's program adds up the fees after payment is received even if the permit isn't issued until later.

Permit fees for projects actually receiving permits during the first quarter of 2013 was just over $30,000.

Ayling also cautioned the figures for permit fees anticipate what the valuation of a project will be. If the actual value of a project is less than originally expected, then the permit fee dollars will also be less.

As an example, Ayling noted the fire station project originally had a valuation of $4 million but is actually going to be in the neighborhood of $3 million.

Based on the figures as presented last night, Vlieger expressed uncertainty in moving forward with the second hire.

"I'm a little hesitant to make cuts, then add two new positions," Vlieger said of 2013 budget constraints that include eliminating the deputy fire chief post later this year.

Vlieger's suggestion was to wait until the end of September to see if permit fees are at a point to fund the proposed planning department assistant.

The sub-committee then agreed with Darrington and Fisher to evaluate the second hiring proposal at the end of June.

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