Although the total 2014 preliminary budget for the city of Sunnyside is just less than $29 million, most of the discussion during last night’s city council budget meeting centered around $70,000 requested by Sunnyside United Coordinator Cathy Kelley to support ongoing efforts to reduce gang activity.
Sunnyside City Manager Don Day and Finance Director David Layden presented the council with a preliminary budget that includes $9.3 million in the general fund, up 4 percent from 2013.
Highlights of the budget, noted by Day, include a rate increase for the water fund due to lower revenues, more money for maintaining the city’s vehicles, a new telephone system and a restructuring of several departments that will eliminate positions, but not staff.
Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger asked if a new payroll and human resources system was included in the budget. Day said he had not included those potential costs, but he does recommend, at the minimum, moving to an electronic timesheet and payroll system.
Day said that the full system the city had received proposals for would cost the city about $75,000, and could be absorbed through reclassification of employees.
Speaking at request of the city manager, Kelley explained that anti-gang activities are a three-legged stool that includes prevention, intervention and suppression. Kelley said the police have been doing a good job with suppression, the school district has been working to provide prevention services and the city received state grants for Sunnyside United that allowed it to hire Merit Resources and FIRME to work on intervention.
Kelley said that in 2013 Sunnyside United worked with 31 youth but the grants have run out and services will end at the end of the year without another source of funding. Sunnyside United would like $70,000 from the city to maintain a “bare bones” program for the next year until more grants can be secured.
Vlieger asked if Kelley had asked for funding from the school district. Kelley noted that the school district has provided prevention funding. Councilman Jason Raines asked if the hospital and the port district are also contributing. Kelley said the hospital is funding the school district’s medical clinic while the port does not provide funding.
Kelley said she has submitted a request to the city manager on behalf of Sunnyside United to include the funding in the budget.
Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck also spoke up in support of the funding, noting that it came from the Sunnyside United board as a whole.
Day said the funding for Sunnyside United is not included in the 2014 preliminary budget, but could be provided through non-recurring funds if the council approves.
Raines asked Day if the budget includes any increases to parks and recreation. Day said the budget is mostly a status quo budget.
Vlieger said he doesn’t support spending $70,000 on intervention programs and that the money would be better spent on parks and recreation.
“I just have to look at what we could do with that $70,000 in our parks and recreation program compared to what we can do in a counseling program,” said Vlieger. “How many hundreds of kids we can service for $70,000 compared to servicing 20 or 30 kids who frankly... you know I don’t pooh-pooh what you guys do. You do great things. But I think the school district should be paying for it.”
Vlieger noted that the school district has double the budget of the city. He also said that the city’s parks and recreation department needs to be built up again and every dollar that goes to intervention is a dollar taken away from prevention efforts.
Raines spoke up to say that intervention programs are great, but very expensive. He listed other ways to use the money and said the city needs to prioritize to benefit the maximum number of people.
Speaking up in favor of funding Sunnyside United were Councilwoman Theresa Hancock, Councilman Francisco Guerrero and Mayor Jim Restucci.
Restucci noted that the city has not been asked to contribute much to Sunnyside United, pointing out that the school district is already paying for many services, including Kelley’s salary. Restucci said that the problem with the now defunct Sunnyside’s Promise group was a lack of communication, but that is not an issue with Sunnyside United because some council members are on the board. He also said that if the city does not fund it, the intervention program may be discontinued.
Raines argued that the city is not cutting any programs. He said the intervention services need to find grants to fund them. Vlieger said prevention is the most cost-effective while intervention is the least cost-effective. Without a fully operational parks and recreation department, funding intervention is not a good use of city money, he said.
Vlieger asked Day to bring back multiple budgets to show what the city would get by putting that money into the parks and recreation department versus into the intervention programs.
After further discussion, the council took more citizen comments. Jesse Campos of FIRME spoke about the value of the intervention programs and the impact they have already had in Sunnyside.
Larry Hill of Sunnyside spoke in favor of the city setting up a parks district to pay for the parks and recreation department. Restucci addressed the issue by saying the city has been looking into the possibility since Mark Gervasi was the city manager, but more work needs to be done before a proposal can be floated.
After more discussion, the decision was made to have city staff return with multiple budgets that show different uses for the $70,000.
The public hearing will continue until the budget is adopted. According to Day, more discussion will be held at the next council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, before the budget is adopted at the Monday, Nov. 25, council meeting.