Sunnyside utility tax triples to help with city's troubled finances

Sunnyside utility tax triples to help with city's troubled finances

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- Paying triple your current utility tax every month is the new reality for people in Sunnyside after councilmembers adopted the 2013 budget.

It's part of an effort to close a nearly $2 million shortfall in Sunnyside's budget for next year.

As part of the deal you will now pay an 18-percent utility tax every month which is triple what you pay now.

Wally Gonzalez stays home to take care of his disabled wife and already struggles to make ends meet.

"I can't afford it 'cause we only get about $520 just for my wife," Gonzalez said.

Sunnyside city leaders say you will also see a three-percent increase on both your sewer and water bills.

You will fork out double every month for an ambulance fee which totals about $8. All together, the average person in Sunnyside will pay an extra $20 a month to get the same services you have now.

"Nobody likes to pay more in taxes but I'm very willing to do it. I want to save jobs in the city of Sunnyside. I feel safe with the police force we have," said taxpayer Jean Grubenhoff.

Sunnyside said it won't be handing out any pink slips. There was previous talk of cutting the deputy police chief position.

Instead, several city jobs will be combined and vacancies will remain unfilled and the city plans to trim department budgets.

"Will there be any impact to city services as a result of all of this?" Action News asked.

"Absolutely not," said city manager Frank Sweet. "This is a turning point and we're moving forward from this point."

A turning point from an unstable financial situation. Earlier this year, a state audit revealed Sunnyside mishandled public funds by moving $3 million from utilities to the dwindling general fund. It's been repairing the mistake ever since.

"It's never fun to pay more in a monthly bill that you have to pay but this is something you have to do," Grubenhoff said.

Sunnyside had to pull about 800,000 dollars from reserves to close the budget shortfall.

City leaders said they don't anticipate the tax increases to be permanent and hoped they could be lowered in the future when finances get back in line.