The Sunnyside City Council last night approved both an ordinance to increase the ambulance utility rate and an ordinance to increase utility taxes.
The changes will go into effect immediately, with the increased rates reflected on January utility bills.
Approval of the rate and tax hikes were a formality, as the council had OK'd the increases in December 2012 while preparing the 2013 city budget.
The ambulance utility rate increase will allow the EMS department to support itself. The increase was based on a 2012 study that concluded the city's general fund was supporting the ambulance service, which is a utility and should be self-sufficient.
The ambulance utility rate will go from $4.16 a month to $8.28 a month per residential unit. The new ordinance also changes the calculations involved in determining the rate for businesses, hotels and nursing homes.
The utility tax will increase from 6 percent to 18 percent, an increase of 300 percent. While most of the city council supported the increase, Councilwoman Theresa Hancock was critical of the effect it will have on large businesses and the local school district.
"There are going to be cuts out in the community," she said. "There's going to be cuts possibly at Darigold, cuts at the school district. Anybody who is a large utility tax user is going to take the brunt of this, and there's some very large numbers out there."
She said the council took the easy way out and should have made more cuts to services. She predicted that council will see the need for more cuts when it revisits the budget in June.
Interim City Manager Frank Sweet said the tax increase doesn't have to be permanent.
"When circumstances change, that we don't need 18 percent, I will be recommending we back down to whatever we need," said Sweet. "But right now that is what we need."
Councilman Nick Paulakis noted that the money is needed to keep the police department fully funded and help with crime control.
"I know that it is a good-sized jump," he said. "But I also want us to realize that for our city, the quality of life, the gang numbers are down, I think that is because of our police department."
He asked Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck to give arrest numbers. Schenck told the council that 160 arrests have been made since the beginning of the year.
Mayor Mike Farmer noted that the city had not cut funding to parks and recreation, the pool or the community center.
"There's really no cuts to the quality of life," he said. "As much as I hate to pay it, just like everybody else, as long as we can maintain what we've got... it's too early to give up on our police programs. We've watched it over the years, what we lose in police we gain in crime."
The 2013 budget also proposed a 3 percent increase in water and sewer rates, but the decision on that increase has been delayed indefinitely.