Consultant says Kent could provide regional services to other cities

Kent's city jail might be a source of new revenue by contracting out more space, according to a consultant's efficiency study of the city.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

As the sixth largest city in the state, Kent might want to become a regional provider of services to smaller, neighboring cities to help solve budget shortfalls, according to a consultant's preliminary report.

Kent could possibly contract with other cities to provide jail space, police, parks maintenance or other services, said Michael Hodgins, of BERK consulting in Seattle, during an Oct. 30 report to the Kent City Council.

"A city of Kent's size (119,100) could contract services out to neighbors," Hodgins said. "You could become a contract provider to others. You need to look at what you do well and how there may be an opening there. It's rich for discussion as a big city."

With large drops in sales tax revenue, the council wants to look at ways to raise more revenue or places to cut services in order to get the city out of a crisis mode each year when it tries to balance its budget.

The council approved a $43,730 contract Sept. 4 with BERK to find ways to save money in the budget. The efficiency study won't help much with this year's budget shortfall but is expected to provide a starting point for decisions next year by the council to make the city stronger financially.

"We do need to look at what we do well and whether we can contract out services," said Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger at the meeting. "We need to look at what we do not want to do anymore such as maybe there's a way to do animal control and not spend $270,000 a year."

Kent contracts with Regional Animal Services of King County to provide animal control services.

"I'm really impressed with the output (in the report) that will allow us to put a framework together and plan things to take a closer look at," said Councilman Bill Boyce. "The report can help us move in the right direction."

Kent's city jail along Central Avenue South is near capacity. But the city agreed in August to contract with the city of Maple Valley to provide two jail beds per night at a cost of $80,300 per year. Kent also agreed to provide municipal court services to Maple Valley for $175,000 per year.

"We need to look at the jail and should we invest more in that," Ranniger said. "Can we make it more of a regional service? Do we have the capacity to add on?"

The consultants recommended looking at finding an operator for the city-owned and run Riverbend Golf Complex, which the city subsidizes each year because the course loses money.

"Seattle contracts out its (four) municipal golf courses," Hodgins said. "It's something to look at."

Kent officials plan to discuss potential changes at the Riverbend Golf Complex at a council Parks Committee meeting Nov. 15.

Hodgins also told the council the city might want to hire contractors rather than depend on city staff for landscape services, street maintenance, custodial services and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) services.

"It's a better way to manage costs," he said. "There might be functions the city does not need to provide itself."

The city also could create a parks district through a special levy to provide parks with its own fund source and take it out of the city's general fund, Hodgins suggested.

Consultant Paul Roberts, also of BERK, told the council it's important to look at changes no matter what the outcome of the property tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund street and park repairs.

"Whether the levy passes or not, you need to look at efficiencies," Roberts said. "These are potential targets to further review. We're not offering conclusions but places where you can scratch your head and see what you find."

Councilwoman Jamie Perry said the council has a lot of work to figure out where to raise revenue or cut services.

"These are long-term things and I'm thankful we did this," Perry said. "I like the report because it lists things we've been concerned about and it's a hard look at the reality we're facing and that we need to make major changes."

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