SUNNYSIDE — The Washington State Auditor’s office and City of Sunnyside finance department staff just completed a multi-week, annual state audit of its finances and practices handling taxpayer’s funds.

Although the city was cited in two areas, overall the city’s work on its financial status, has improved significantly over years past. For the improvement, city leadership is pleased.

City Manager Martin Casey acknowledged the work accomplished and remaining, in an Oct. 2 email. He wrote, “As expected, state auditors will be issuing a Finding over the City’s continued weak financial condition in 2018. However, the auditors do acknowledge our efforts in 2019 to strengthen fiscal management practices and Council’s action to set future reserve targets. I expect auditors will consider those steps as part of next year’s audit. While the city’s financial position is still tight, we are gaining a firmer grasp of the situation.”

City Finance and Administrative Services Director Elizabeth Alba had foreshadowed the results to the council in both an early August budget and October council meeting.

As deliberated during the city council’s first budget hearing on Aug. 3, 2019, the 2017 finding received by the city on Oct. 18, 2018, called out the high risk of having a low ending General Fund balance, “The City’s position places it at risk of not meeting its financial obligations or providing services at current levels.” The finding continued on, “. . . there is a declining financial condition, and no formal plan to improve this condition. Cash balance in 2017, was $52,639 compared to $945,932 ending balance in 2014.

Alba and Casey both discussed during the early August budget hearing and again at the Oct. 1 council meeting, the appropriateness of this finding.

Issues which have substantially impacted the city’s financial stability over time include simultaneous growth in services, coupled with inflation and leadership turnover.

Councilman Jim Restucci during the Aug. 3, meeting sized up the city’s long-term financial instability factor, this way, “What, 16 managers in 10 years?”

The auditors cited the city for fiscal year January 1 through December 31, 2018, as follows, “The City did not have adequate internal controls in place to ensure the 2018 annual SF-425 Federal Financial reports to. . . Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).” In short, the mandated report to the FAA was late.” The second citation was a repeat citation, citing the city’s weak financial position.

In action taken on Sept. 9, the council approved an aggressive savings plan which would bring the city up to the minimum required ending balance and beyond. Voting 6 to 1, the council approved an eight-year plan in which the city will shore up its ending budget balance.

The plan will allocate more funds to the city’s reserve each year so the city will have emergency funds to last 60 days, instead of the 10-20, which was where the budget ending balance fell in 2018.

Deb Brumley can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 114 or email DBrumley@sunnysidesun.com

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