As the Yakima City Council considers whether to appeal a federal judge’s decision changing the city’s elections system, members are confronted with an issue of cost versus conscience. Most have at some point in the 21/2-year case come out opposed to changing the elections system. Yakima voters also rejected a separate redistricting proposal in 2011 brought about by a citizen initiative. Regardless, a federal judge has said the system violates the federal Voting Rights Act and on Tuesday ordered a new system of voting by district that includes two districts with a majority of Latino voters. Even if a majority of the council dislikes that outcome, their options for continuing the fight create potentially enormous financial challenges. It’s not just that the city has already spent $918,314 defending the case, or that the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the case, is expected to seek a sum even greater to cover its legal fees and costs. It’s also a question of where the money to pay for it comes from because the case isn’t covered by the city’s insurance policy.
Instead, the city has been paying for the case out of its risk-management fund, an account funded mostly by charges made to city departments and which had already been under greater stress in recent years. It pays for the city’s insurance policies and deductibles, as well as legal liabilities not covered by its insurers.
The city ideally maintains from $750,000 to $1 million in the account at any given time, Finance and Budget Director Cindy Epperson said. But at the end of last year, it had a balance of just $276,990, and the city only projects this year’s year-end balance to be around $650,000.