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City Council budget discussions stay focused on Sunnyside United’s $70,000 funding request

Mayor Jim Restucci (left) confers with Sunnyside City Manager Don Day before the city council meeting on Tuesday night.

Mayor Jim Restucci (left) confers with Sunnyside City Manager Don Day before the city council meeting on Tuesday night. Photo by Laura Gjovaag.

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The Sunnyside City Coun-cil was scheduled to review the 2014 city budget again at its regular meeting last night, Tuesday, but for the second straight meeting focused on a relatively tiny portion of the budget.

According to City Manager Don Day, the goal is to have the final reading of the budget at the next council meeting on Monday, Nov. 25, and to finalize and approve the budget at the first December meeting.

Last night, however, the discussion was limited to the $70,000 requested by Sunnyside United to continue funding anti-gang efforts, particularly intervention programs in the city.

At its last meeting, the council requested that staff put together a proposal of what that $70,000 could be used for in the city’s parks and recreation department instead.

New parks and recreation coordinator Megan Razey put together three “wish lists” of items and improvements that the funds could provide to her department. One list was for half the amount and the other two lists showed how the department could spend the full amount with one list concentrating on the community center and one on park equipment in general.

On her wish lists were basic items, including equipment like cones that are used for a variety of sports and events. She also included providing access to the city’s network so employees at the community center can process payments, and physical improvements like adding volleyball net inserts to the community center gym and speakers at the pool.

A major project Razey included was finishing the soccer fields near the Law & Justice Center. The council agreed unanimously that it is a worthy project that will benefit the city. Councilman Francisco Guerrero asked if LTAC funds could be used on the project. He argued that the soccer fields may bring tourism into the city, which is the purpose of the funds.

Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger also suggested looking into the possibility of using REET (Real Estate Excise Tax) funds to finish the project. He asked Day to investigate the possibility.

Mayor Jim Restucci said that the internet issues should be part of the city’s IT budget, and Day confirmed that they are.

“This is just a wish list,” Day said. “I asked Megan what she would do with $70,000.”

Councilman Jason Raines made the point that giving the $70,000 to parks and recreation will help hundreds of people in the city. He asked Razey if she could estimate how many people would be helped by each of the items on her list. Razey refused to speculate, saying she was not good at those sorts of estimations and that she hasn’t been back in Sunnyside long enough to know how many people will attend events.

Raines reiterated the point that if the money is spent on parks and recreation, it will help more people than if the $70,000 is given to Sunnyside United for gang intervention, which was estimated at a previous meeting to be helping less than 40 people.

Members of council also received a document from Sunnyside United on the requested funds. The document includes information on what the funding would be used for and discusses the contributions of other partners in Sunnyside United, particularly the school district.

Sunnyside United Coordinator Cathy Kelley said that the school district is already paying for her salary and for many prevention programs in the schools. She said the intervention program is just getting off the ground and asked for “one more year” to get it going.

“We had that funding for such a short time, to really get anything put in place was a real challenge,” she said. “With another year it will allow us some time to seek other funding and to figure out how to embed it into the systems that are already in place.”

She acknowledged that the city is in a difficult spot and needs to fund parks and recreation as well, but argued that the intervention piece of the anti-gang system is also important to the entire program overall.

Vlieger said he wasn’t convinced that intervention programs are worth the money spent on them. He said if such programs worked the public would see them replicated across the country. He suggested that council ask for metrics to measure the success of the program before providing any funding.

Councilman Dean Broersma asked where the $70,000 came from in the first place. He said that the council had been told the city didn’t have $65,000 for human resources improvements, so he wanted to know why the council was spending $70,000 that hadn’t been in the original budget.

Councilman Francisco Guerrero said that the city has identified gangs as a problem and Sunnyside United has a way to fight gangs. He asked why the city wouldn’t fund anti-gang efforts as part of the larger system in place.

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