Sunnyside City Council spars over police cuts

It was budget cuts, round two, for the Sunnyside City Council last night, Monday, as it took formal action in cutting nine positions from the city workforce.

Council last week gave permission for City Manager Eric Swansen to go forward with the cuts immediately in an effort to reduce a $1.1 million budget shortfall.

Council gave the thumbs up to the cuts, despite public pleading to not reduce the police force by two officers.

Councilman Bill Gant said last night that he was out of town when the city had that special meeting last week, and unaware there were plans to cut the two officer positions, one of which is currently vacant.

Councilman Bruce Epps, who last week with colleague Jim Restucci favored a 2.5 percent increase in utility taxes to retain an officer, said he felt the public spoke loud and clear during a budget exercise last month, in which seven of eight groups of citizens proposed raising the utility tax on water and sewer.

Noting the 2.5 percent increase would have amounted to about $1.25 extra per month on Sunnyside utility bills, Epps said he heard from citizens this past weekend that they did not want police cuts.

Council members Tom Gehlen, Theresa Hancock, Carol Stone and Mayor Paul Garcia all opposed a tax hike during last week's special meeting.

With council divided four-to-three over whether there should be a tax increase to retain the one officer who will be terminated-and with City Manager Eric Swansen absent last night so he could move his family here from Ohio-council members last night began debating the merits of retaining the officer versus eliminating the position and possibly hiring one next year if a tax hike happens.

Gehlen indicated it wouldn't be fair to keep the officer on without any certainty for him in 2009, to make a clear decision now.

Based on input from Deputy Chief Phil Schenck, Epps countered in favor of keeping the officer on, noting it would cost the city two or three times more to terminate the officer now and then hire and re-train a brand new officer in 2009 if a tax hike occurs.

Despite the differing views, council voted 7-0 to confirm the cuts Swansen initiated last week.

During a public comment period last night, Sunnyside resident Jerry Herrmann called for council to seek the community's input before letting the officer go.

"It's up to the community to help you decide," he said.


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