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Kent residents to vote in November on property tax increase to pay for parks, streets

Kent City Council President Dennis Higgins talks about the need for a property tax increase as Mayor Suzette Cooke, left, and Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger listen. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Kent City Council President Dennis Higgins talks about the need for a property tax increase as Mayor Suzette Cooke, left, and Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger listen.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Kent voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to approve a property tax levy increase to help pay for city park and street repairs.

After a heated debate during a two-hour special meeting, the Kent City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to send the measure to the November ballot.

But with the split council vote, it could be a rough road ahead for city officials to persuade voters to pass the property tax increase.

Voters will be asked to approve 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 will describe the park and street projects to be paid for and require a simple majority.

Council members Dennis Higgins, Deborah Ranniger, Bill Boyce and Dana Ralph voted to send the measure to voters. Jamie Perry, Elizabeth Albertson and Les Thomas voted against the measure.

"We are here to solve a problem that isn't going away," said Higgins, the council president, in his opening statement at the meeting. "If we don't deal with facilities that are falling apart and streets that are falling apart today, they will have to be shut down, they will have to be rebuilt and they will have to be torn out."

The council formed citizen committees earlier this year to come up with recommendations for parks and street funding and to help prioritize repairs. Those recommendations went to an ad-hoc committee of council members Higgins, Ralph and Albertson. Those three came up with final recommendations to the full council.

Perry strong opposed asking voters to approve a property tax increase, especially with no solid plan by the council to charge businesses more to help pay for street improvements.

"Our residents are already paying far more than their surrounding communities," Perry said. "And asking them to raise their rates further without looking at other options, I cannot do."

Perry came armed to the meeting with statistics to back up her statement. She said Kent residents pay 60 percent of the property taxes that come into the city, with business property owners paying the other 40 percent.

Perry said a Kent resident with a $350,000 home pays $4,805 in all property taxes to support schools, the city, King County, fire department and other entities supported by the tax. She said in Bellevue, an owner of a $350,000 home pays $3,237 in property taxes. In Seattle, the property tax on a $350,000 home is $3,559.

The councilwoman then pointed out the differences between Kent and other cities as far as business taxes.

"You have Bellevue, Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellingham, Burien, Des Moines, Issaquah and Olympia all have a B&O (business and occupation) tax," Perry said. You have Spokane, Vancouver and Renton who all have a head (per employee) tax. Kent has neither.

"A B&O or head tax or some sort of business tax seems like a much more reasonable option to me than asking our residents to further burden themselves than what they're already paying. It's time this council stood up and enacted one of those business taxes."

Despite Perry's plea, the council voted down 5-2 on Tuesday night a proposal to levy a B&O tax of 0.2 percent on wholesalers or warehouse distributors. Perry and Albertson voted for the tax as a method to help get companies whose trucks damage many of the roads to help pay for repairs to the streets.

After that vote, the council voted 6-1, with Albertson against, to pass a resolution that the city will enact some type of business tax or fee by the end of the year. Most of the council wanted more time to work with the business community to see how to come up with another $4 million or so per year through a new tax or fee to pay for streets.

Several council members said they realize in order for voters to approve the property tax increase the city needs to adopt a new business tax or fee of some type.

The council agreed unanimously on one item Tuesday. They asked city administration to hire a consultant to study the city budget and operations in an effort to find further efficiencies to reduce the budget by as much as $2 million per year.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke told the council she did not yet know how much such a study would cost or how long it would take to complete until she has a chance to look into the issue.

"I recognize the fact the council and I would like to use the results of this in support of any kind of effort we take to the public for a levy lid lift," Cooke said. "I'm very cognizant that it needs to be sooner rather than later."

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