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Kent City Council considering property tax levy to pay for parks, streets

The Kent City Council is considering asking voters to approve a property tax levy to pay for repairs to streets and parks. - Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter
The Kent City Council is considering asking voters to approve a property tax levy to pay for repairs to streets and parks.
— image credit: Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter

Kent voters could face a property tax levy measure in November to help pay for city park and street projects.

The Kent City Council also is considering a possible business tax as part of a package to help pay to fix up deteriorating streets and parks.

"We know this is a difficult process but we're only trying to preserve infrastructure we have so it does not deteriorate further," said Council President Dennis Higgins during a phone interview. "We hope the community recognizes that and gets behind it."

No decisions have been made yet by the council. But in order to get a property tax levy measure on the Nov. 6 ballot, the council must submit the measure to King County Elections by Aug. 7.

"We may need to set a special meeting for Aug. 2 about whether to put it on the ballot in November," Higgins said.

The council did not have the proposal on its agenda Tuesday and does not meet again until Aug. 7 unless it calls a special meeting.

The council formed citizen committees earlier this year to come up with recommendations for parks and street funding and to help prioritize projects. Those recommendations went to an ad-hoc committee of council members Higgins, Dana Ralph and Elizabeth Albertson.

That three-member committee recommended to the full council a six-year property tax levy lid lift of 37 cents per $1,000 assessed property value or about $111 per year on a $300,000 home.

The levy would raise about $29 million over six years, $18.3 million for parks and $10.7 million for streets as 23 cents per $1,000 would go to parks each year and 14 cents per $1,000 to streets. The levy would expire after six years. The ballot measure would describe the park and street projects to be paid for and require a simple majority.

But a property tax levy alone would not cover the long-term street maintenance needs, Higgins said.

The committee also recommended that a new business tax be implemented to raise as much as $4 million to $6 million per year and that city administrators find $2 million per year in efficiencies in the city budget to go toward street maintenance.

The options for a business tax could be a per employee tax similar to what the city of Renton does; a business and occupation tax or a business license fee.

"I want to stress that I personally don't want to do anything to put Kent at a disadvantage with our peers," Higgins said about a business tax. "But we're working with the business community to find a way and figure out what the tax would look like."

Discussions have heated up lately because of the approaching ballot measure deadline. If the council doesn't refer a measure to voters in November, decisions about how to raise more revenue for streets and parks will become part of the 2013-14 budget discussions, Higgins said.

Higgins said past budget cuts to street maintenance have left many streets in bad shape.

"We had a situation that in order to make ends meet we were skimping on street maintenance to about $9 million per year," Higgins said. "We need about $10 million (in maintenance) per year and we've done under a $1 million per year. If we don't do anything, we'll need complete reconstruction and not just a paving job.

"We're not building Taj Mahal, we're keeping care of what we've got. I would not be doing my duty if I did not help find a way to address this."

City Parks Director Jeff Watling said a system of 55 parks, many built in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, now needs repairs.

"What came out very clear from conversations with the citizens group is we have a park system the community is very proud of and has been invested in over the last 30 to 40 years but like a lot park systems it is showing its age," Watling said during a City Hall interview.

Watling said the key now is to reinvest in current park structures rather than spending money on new projects. He said smaller repairs have been done over the years but now larger repairs are needed.

"Think of it like a house," Watling said. "You go through living in your house and you'll replace the light bulbs and filter in the furnace and appliances but at some point in time you've got to replace the roof. After repainting a couple of times, you might need to replace the siding.

"We're at that point in the age of our park system where these are pretty significant replacements we need to address that just comes with age."

One example is the deteriorated Lake Meridian Park swimming and fishing dock that King County built in the 1980s. The estimated cost of that repair is $1.5 million.

A list of proposed parks repairs recommended by the citizens group also includes $1.8 million for Wilson Playfields to replace the synthetic turf, repair damaged fence posts and construct a new picnic shelter; $1.8 million for Lake Fenwick Park to replace the floating walkway and the eastern stairs, repave the middle parking lot and pave the boat launch; $932,000 for Kent Memorial Park to repair or replace the restroom, bleachers and parking lot.

The list of park projects also includes a few new items, including $3.1 million for Russell Road Park to convert one field to multi-use synthetic turf and replace the restroom; and $2.8 million for two to four new multi-use fields at the Kent Phoenix Academy, a project to be done in partnership with the Kent School District, which owns the 2.5 acre site.

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