Kent City Councilman Les Thomas proposes council consider property tax reduction | Motion fails
June 24, 2011 · Updated 6:41 PM
Sparks flew for a time at the Kent City Council meeting Tuesday night when Councilman Les Thomas made a motion concerning a property tax issue.
Thomas proposed to have the council consider a reduction in the 2012 property tax assessment from $1.48 per $1,000 to $1.10 per $1,000 at the July 5 meeting.
The motion and an amendment sending it to the Operations Committee each failed to pass on a 4-2 vote. Thomas and Councilman Ron Harmon voted for the motion and amendment.
Council President Jamie Perry and members Elizabeth Albertson, Deborah Ranniger and Debbie Raplee voted no. Councilman Dennis Higgins was not present at the meeting.
The fire benefit charge was added to the 2011 property tax bills after the fire authority was established following a more than 70 percent approval vote in April 2010. The Kent Fire Department merged with Fire District 37 into the regional fire authority.
Business members stated the fire benefit charge was higher than expected.
Jim Berrios, owner of the Golden Steer restaurant on East Hill, raised the issue at the chamber meeting about the city keeping a portion of the property tax that would have gone to operating the fire department if it had stayed in the city. The council approved the 2011 budget moving the property tax revenue into the general fund, which amounted to nearly $5 million.
Perry stated at the chamber meeting June 14 the city needed the money for essential city services.
Harmon said he brought the issue up last September and stated he believed the city balanced the budget on the “back of the RFA (regional fire authority).”
The 2011 budget was approved by the council on a 5-2 vote in December with Perry and Ranniger voting against it.
In the statement Thomas read in support of his motion at the Tuesday meeting, he stated the issue had been on the “minds of several council members. We felt strongly that the citizens of our city were being overburdened on their property taxes, even though the city lowered their portion of the property tax already by 88 (cents per $1,000).”
Thomas noted, “don’t let anyone mislead you, the city of Kent had some serious needs at the time and still does today.”
The councilman said some in the community and on the council suggested giving the money back.
“That idea is neither practical nor possible,” Thomas said.
He noted the money was spent and the city needed it to sustain services.
Thomas said he thought it was necessary to adopt the current proposal to insure the success of the fire authority and the city should live within its means.
Harmon had stated he supported the motion and amendment. He said the council should look at the basic obligations the city must provide – public safety and infrastructure.
“I have a passion for parks. I have a passion for flowers,” Harmon said. “But if we cant afford them, we have to maintain what we have and be able to go on living within our means.”
Ranniger said she was “quite appalled” with Thomas for bringing this up without informing the council members about his intentions first.
“We have a protocol of no surprises,” Ranniger said. “This was a surprise to me and to our council president – mayor pro tem.”
Perry was presiding over the meeting because Mayor Suzette Cooke was not present.
Ranniger went on to note the economic environment the city is currently facing is “very volatile. It changes from day to day and I am absolutely not ready to make a decision about what we are going to do in December in July.”
She said a potential $5 million cut could mean cuts to public safety, parks and public works. The councilwoman stated the discussion was premature and “feels an awful lot like someone is running for office.”
Thomas is running this year for his third term on the council.
Albertson said, “When I hear the phrase give it back to the citizens of Kent, I stand firm behind my decision I have given it back to the citizens of Kent in the form of keeping City Hall alive. Keeping parks open, keeping fresh water to their homes, keeping police on the streets, keeping services alive down here.”
The councilwoman went on to note she “resents the implication that money was taken from people. They were asked to vote on the issue. They overwhelming understood the issue. It was passed by 73 percent of the educated voters who live in this community. And I resent even the idea that they weren’t smart enough to know what they were doing.”
Albertson said she was also “appalled as well at hearing about this when I show up for this meeting tonight. So not only will I not be supporting the idea tonight, I am not supporting the idea at all, ever... the rest of the year.”
The councilwoman added, “We have cut and cut and cut for years since I have been down here. And I can’t figure out a way to cut another dime without shutting things down that are important to people.”