SUNNYSIDE -- A two-year budget that at first appeared routine was derailed Monday by a late suggestion to let the city's public works director go.
The Sunnyside City Council voted 4-3 to postpone a decision on the 2011-2012 financial blueprint after Councilman Don Vlieger asked to eliminate the position of the public works director, held by Jim Bridges.
"This position has ballooned in pay, this position has shrunk in job responsibility," Vlieger said. "We're wasting money on this position."
Bridges, a seven-year city employee, filled in as city manager for more than a year before the City Council hired Mark Gervasi in September. Bridges did not apply for the permanent post.
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He is currently paid about $95,880 per year. With insurance, cellular phone costs and car stipends, he receives more than $125,000, almost as much as the city manager.
City staff, including Bridges, recently has come under scrutiny for allegedly granting pay raises without council approval. A committee of council members has just started a fact-finding probe and some city officials say some of those raises could be reversed.
Mayor Jim Restucci and Councilman Mike Farmer joined Vlieger to support writing the public works director position out of the budget and opposed postponing the budget vote.
They insisted the move was financial, not personal. Most of Bridges' duties already are being overseen by other supervisors, they said.
However, fellow council members sternly scolded Vlieger for making the suggestion at the last minute, the night the council was scheduled to pass the budget. They have had at least six workshops about the budget since it was first proposed in early November.
"I think this is just a cheap shot, in my mind," said the normally soft-spoken Paul Garcia, his voice rising.
Council members Theresa Hancock, Tom Gehlen and Nick Paulakis joined Garcia in favoring postponement of the budget decision to talk about Bridges' job a little longer.
Vlieger said would have brought up the issue earlier if he had noticed the size of Bridges' paycheck earlier.
Bridges did not attend the council meeting and did not reply to a late message left on his cellular phone Monday.
The council will reconvene for a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday. By state law, cities have until Dec. 31 to pass a budget.
Otherwise, Sunnyside's budget -- still proposed at this point -- includes some good news.
It does not increase rates on water, sewer and garbage services as proposed in November. Instead, the city council called for a review of water and sewer rates to determine what new expenses the city may need years down the road.
The budget also does not increase property taxes, which state law allows them to do by 1 percent each year.
Residents still will notice some extra costs, though. The budget calls for an increase in ambulance service rates by 4.5 percent. It will translate to roughly a 14-cent increase on a monthly utility bill, Restucci said.
The $44 million budget, the first in the city's history to span two years, will pretty much hold a "status quo" from 2010, said Byron Olson, the city's deputy city manager.
It does not cut any positions from the city's 105 employees.
w The City Council promoted Byron Olson from director of finance and administrative services to deputy city manager. It means a pay increase of $50 per month to $8,040 per month, plus a $200 monthly car allowance.