State audit: Sunnyside mishandling taxpayer money

State audit: Sunnyside mishandling taxpayer money
SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- KIMA learned the city of Sunnyside mishandled your taxpayer money. And, is now more than 600-thousand dollars in the hole. The state auditor found several problems with the city's finances.

The state auditor paints a clear picture. Of a city so far in the hole, you could say Sunnyside is robbing Peter to pay Paul: taking money from one fund to make up the difference in another.

In the recent auditor's report, Action News learned the city of Sunnyside is more than a half million dollars in the hole.

Jan Jutte is director of legal affairs. She says this deficit is one reason Sunnyside is forced to use money from the utility fund to supplement the general fund.

"By moving those rate dollars to the general fund, you've converted rate money to tax money and you really can't do that," said Jutte. "It's really not allowed."

It's also illegal.

The general fund relies on your tax dollars. Raising taxes needs a yes vote from you. But, you can't control the utility fund.

We asked, "Could that potentially raise the rates for the citizens in Sunnyside?"

"It could do that, you are correct," said Jutte.

The report states that Sunnyside is at risk of not being able maintain services for residents. That could include things like your water, or garbage pickup. The auditor also adds that the transfer of funds could cause an additional cost to its ratepayers and taxpayers.

"Every month my water bill seems to go up and just little things I'm seeing, said resident Larry Salazar. "I just think it should be equal and fair for everybody."

The findings show a total of nearly $4 million from the utility fund was used between 2010 and last year. Jutte says unless there is good reason for that, it's a problem.

The mistakes don't stop there. The audit also revealed Sunnyside is not monitoring payroll or city cell phone charges. They've also overpaid employees and possibly allowed them to accrue more vacation and sick days than they've earned. All in the end, likely to cost you more money.

In order to keep this story fair and balanced, we wanted to talk with the city. But, the interim city manager refused to talk with Action News Monday afternoon.

Sunnyside responded to the report by saying it will fix the problems. The findings will be brought up at Monday's city council meeting.

>>>Click here to read the state's full report