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Budget ax could fall on Buckley associate city planner

Unless Buckley City Council members come up with money in an already-tight 2009 budget, the associate city planner's position will be eliminated at the end of September.

Several council member's did not react favorably when the was divulged during Tuesday night's regularly-scheduled city council meeting. Council members Randy Reed and James Montgomery in particular were vehemently opposed to the idea. Reed said Associate Planner Suraiya Rashid is easy to work with the majority of the time and Montgomery went one step further.

He said if the city doesn't have a city planner position covered with the 2010 budget, "I for one will not be casting a yes vote to accept that budget. I don't think any of us want another South Hill or Bonney Lake situation happening here in Buckley.

"I think Suraiya has done everything in her power to keep a handle on runaway and reckless expansion."

A few days prior to the regularly-scheduled council meeting, a council subcommittee consisting of Christy Boyle-Barrett, Melanie Pattson and Sandra Ramsey, along with City Administrator David Schmidt and Mayor Pat Johnson, met for more than seven hours trying to arrive at a solution that would at least temporarily solve the current budget woes facing the community of 4,500 people.

"We poured over the possible places we could trim the budget, asking the council members what they felt should be the top budget priorities," said Johnson, "and they all agreed that public safety, in other words police and fire, should stand above everything else."

Despite that, Johnson has asked Buckley Police Chief Jim Arsanto to sharpen his pencil, even though the results could be grim.

If one more police officer is cut, the city would have a tough time covering the three shifts in three towns (Buckley, Carbonado and Wilkeson) full time, Johnson said.

"Quite frankly, I would rather deal with a pothole or two in the roads than cut one more police officer," Johnson said.

Johnson said things came to a head when Rashid asked her to sign paperwork necessary for a job-related class at the University of Washington.

"I simply told her that I could not sign the letter with a clear conscience, because I had to tell her that her position was going to disappear at month's end," said Johnson, who added that emotion cannot be a part of the decision-making process when it comes to the budget.

"It would have been easier to fire her for cause like breaking some rule or chronically being late, but such was not the case with Suraiya, because there was nothing in her file that would constitute grounds for firing. It was nothing she did wrong. It is just always so much more difficult to inform someone that their position is simply being eliminated."

Buckley's mayor estimates there is about a 50 percent chance of saving the associate city planner's position. Unless council members who want the position to stay in the budget can come up with some creative ideas to move some money around, the position will no longer exist at the end of September.

"I feel like this was kind of a wake up call for everybody," Johnson said. "Believe me when I tell you this was not an action that we decided upon lightly."

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