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Kent property owners object to fees to improve SE 256th Street
Mary Cross and other property owners along Southeast 256th Street left a Kent City Council meeting Tuesday night upset and confused.
The council voted 4-2 to form a Local Improvement District (LID) to charge fees to property owners who benefit from the project to pay for about $2 million of a $7 million cost to upgrade and widen 256th Street on the East Hill from the "Y" intersection at Kent-Kangley Road to 116th Avenue Southeast.
About a dozen property owners showed up at a public hearing to protest formation of the LID. They also turned in petitions to the council from more than 70 percent of the property owners opposing the assessments because of the high fees and their opinion that the costs should be spread out to all of those who use the street not just those who live nearby where the improvements are planned.
"That was really, really undemocratic," Cross said after the meeting.
Property owners can still overturn the formation of the LID if 60 percent or more of the property owners sign to oppose the fee within the next 30 days and those signatures are given to city officials.
"We'll have 30 days to reproduce what we collected over months," said Cross, who lives in Covington but owns property along 256th Street. "It'll be hard to duplicate in 30 days but we will do our best."
A total of 370 properties would be impacted by the 256th LID with payments spread out over 15 years. The average assessment for the single-family homes would be about $3,000 to be paid over 15 years, according to city officials. The area includes 107 single-family homes, 1,224 apartments, 82 condos, 17 duplexes and nine commercial parcels.
The changes will improve traffic flow, access to businesses and homes and safety for vehicles and pedestrians by adding a center turn lane to form a three-lane road; adding bicycle lanes and sidewalks; installing street lights; and improving traffic efficiency by rebuilding intersections and retiming traffic signals, according to city staff reports.
The rush is on by city staff to get the project funded because a $2 million grant awarded six years ago to the city from the state Transportation Improvement Board (funded by the gas tax) will be taken back and given to another jurisdiction if the city isn't ready to start construction by July 1. The board wants evidence that the city has a funding package to pay for the project.
The city plans to use $1 million from the city Transportation Impact Fee (charged to new developments and pre-existing structures with a major change in use) and $1 million from the city drainage utility fund to help pay for the project. City officials have yet to determine how to raise the final $1 million needed for the project.
Council President Dennis Higgins voted for the LID formation along with Les Thomas, Bill Boyce and Dana Ralph. Jamie Perry and Deborah Ranniger opposed the formation. Elizabeth Albertson had an excused absence.
"The question I ask myself is not just what's fair for the people (protesting the formation) in this room but the entire city," Higgins said. "LIDs is how roads get funded. Every road project in the last 50 years had a LID. It would be unfair to the entire city if we did not move forward. Others have paid the price. In this case not to do that - that's not fair."
Ranniger said the public comments by the property owners persuaded her to vote against the LID.
"It's true for 50 years we've used LIDs but people have homes that are still under water (financially) and many of you are retired and on fixed incomes," Ranniger said. "Many of you feel there will be a negative impact on your homes. There is validity to the comments about 1,000 vehicles per hour past the homes and these are not your neighbors but people on the road to Covington."
Ranniger said the petitions also showed the city shouldn't move forward with the LID.
"I know the city is risking $2 million (in grant money) but we also have 60-percent opposition," she said. "That's a lot of make work to pass this and then the property owners have to come back with petitions. It makes sense to look at new ways to fund the project."
Two Kent-Meridian High School students testified in favor of the project because so many students must walk to school in the dark along unpaved shoulders. Boyce agreed with the students.
"I travel that road and see the kids and it's a safety hazard," Boyce said. "But the power is within the people. If you get the vote to revert, so be it."
Property owners said they also opposed the 256th LID when the city proposed the project four years ago. City officials dropped plans to find other funds because of the recession but figured now would be the time to improve the street and don't want to lose the $2 million state grant.
Perry said she thinks the new Business and Occupation tax (B&O) adopted last year by the city to help pay for streets could be used for the project. The tax is expected to raise about $5 million per year. City staff had included $1 million from the B&O in its initial proposal but dropped that after the council's Public Works Committee questioned use of the fee for 256th Street.
The Kent Chamber of Commerce came out against using the tax for 256th Street.
"I don't understand why we cannot use the B&O," Perry said. "We need to look at this overall and not just at the people who live there."
John Hodgson, chief administrative officer, said it is the council's discretion how it uses the B&O tax.