Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sun Valley moves ahead on budget

Road funding, police benefits debated for 2014-15 fiscal year

Express Staff Writer

Keith Saks

    The city of Sun Valley unanimously approved the first reading of the fiscal year 2014-15 budget on Thursday, Aug. 7. While there were discussions to change items in the preliminary budget, namely police benefits and more money in the streets budget, the council opted to keep the original budget intact, at least until the next reading.
    The budget totals approximately $5.64 million.
    Councilman Franz Suhadolnik began discussions by asking for more money allocated to road maintenance and upkeep, which currently has $300,000 set aside for the upcoming fiscal year.
    “Thirty percent of our roads are deteriorating,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be.”
    Suhadolnik said the city’s two most important functions are public safety and infrastructure. Citing the Sun Valley Police Department’s reduced overtime and benefits voted into effect during the previous mayoral administration, the Police Department has a problem with high turnover, according to Chief Walt Femling, who was present at the meeting.
    “Vacation was cut arbitrarily through the policy,” Femling said. “We’re the only city that doesn’t allow any increased accrual from 10 to 20 years. Everyone else does it in five-year increments.”
    Femling also noted that there’s no carryover for compensational time year to year; saying less than 100 hours carried over wouldn’t incur a cost to the city.
    Councilwoman Michelle Griffith said she didn’t have an issue with carryover, but she did not support police officers being able to cash out their surplus vacation hours.
    Femling said the substandard benefits package doesn’t attract applicants to the Sun Valley Police Department. It has been down three officers during the busy August season, especially important for enforcing safety for the Sun Valley Summer Symphony.
    The force should have a new officer starting Sept. 1. Femling said the goal is to keep new recruits at the city for at least a year.
    City Council President Keith Saks said he wished he had initially voted to put more money into necessities such as streets and the police budget instead of non-profits and marketing.
    The Sun Valley Marketing Alliance was allotted up to $300,000, based on future local-option-tax revenues, after a 3-1 vote on a motion made by Councilman Peter Hendricks during the Thursday, July 3, initial review of Mayor Dewayne Briscoe’s budget.
    “I will acknowledge that I voted for the Marketing Alliance, but my heart wasn’t in it,” Saks said.
    Suhadolnik moved to cut the city’s external contracts by 20 percent each, moving the surplus $116,700 into the streets fund. These contracts include the Air Service Board and the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.
    His motion was rejected by each of the council members. Griffith cited a lack of transparency and late notice, mentioning that the people of Sun Valley voted to pass the LOT for Air tax, which shows they prioritize marketing and air-service funding. Hendricks, mentioning the official estimate of $600,000 needed to make a dent in road maintenance, said he would be more supportive of a bond measure than a $100,000 “Band-Aid.”
    Saks, though he said he was unhappy with aspects of the budget, said he was “loath to reinvent the wheel” by “dredging up” issues the council already acted upon.
    The second reading will occur Thursday, Aug. 14, and the third reading is set for Tuesday, Aug. 19.

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