Kent council, mayoral candidates discuss downtown plans, taxes and golf course

Tim Clark, who is challenging incumbent Suzette Cooke to be mayor of Kent, participates in a candidates
Tim Clark, who is challenging incumbent Suzette Cooke to be mayor of Kent, participates in a candidates' forum Thursday night at the Kent Senior Center.
— image credit: Steve Hunter/Kent Reporter

How to bring more business to downtown Kent, the proposed sale of the Riverbend Par 3 Golf Course and the business and occupation (B&O) tax were among the hot topics for debate among City Council and mayoral candidates at a forum sponsored by the Kent Chamber of Commerce.

Candidates differed somewhat on the best way to revitalize downtown. They were opposed to the council's idea of the par 3 sale despite heavy revenue losses at the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex. The new B&O tax took an anti-tax hit.

Candidates rotated tables filled with several voters every eight minutes Thursday night at the Kent Senior Center during a speed candidating event based on the speed dating format.

The Kent Reporter listened in on one session with each of the following candidates to get a taste of their stands on issues raised by voters at the event.

Phillips, Sharp and Stober eye council seat

A race among Barbara Phillips, Ken Sharp and Bailey Stober looms as the only council position on the Aug. 6 primary ballot. The top two vote-getters advance to the Nov. 5 general election. The winner will replace Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson, who decided not to seek re-election.

Council members are paid $13,752 per year for their part-time positions.

Stober said the city needs to do more to support the small downtown businesses along Meeker Street. He supports hiring a director to focus on small business economic development similar to what the city of Renton does.

"Who's focusing on Meeker Street?" said Stober, who works as executive assistant to the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. "As these businesses continue to close and you see for lease sign after for lease sign, who is focusing on those small mom-and-pop businesses making sure they understand the process, we're helping them to be successful and we're maintaining those businesses and jobs."

Stober said he also supports sending a property tax levy to voters to pay for parks and human services, including a new recreation center for youth.

"The recent levy (last fall) with roads and parks together was a big mistake," Stober said of the failed levy. "The folks I talked to that cared about roads didn't care about parks and the folks that cared about parks didn't care about roads."

Sharp has decided to stay in the race even though Federal Way Police arrested him in June for investigation of first-degree theft in connection with allegedly taking more than $485,000 from the bank account of his 93-year-old mother. King County prosecutors are still reviewing the case to decide whether to file charges against Sharp, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Sharp, who owns Minuteman Press in Kent, said the new B&O tax adopted last year by the council to pay for road maintenance was the wrong move.

"As a businessman I was against the B&O tax," said Sharp, past president of the Kent Chamber. "We (the Chamber) wanted a sunset clause. I would like to see the tax removed. I don't think it's good for business. There are better ways to operate the city. You don't need that revenue."

Sharp said sales and property taxes can provide the necessary revenue as the economy grows.

"We are competing against cities like Auburn and Federal Way who are doing everything they can to attract new business into their community," Sharp said. "Some are doing away with all fees and some are limiting them. I think that's what we need to do is bring more business in that will generate more revenue for the city."

Phillips, a member of the city's Land Use and Planning Board, said she would work to make sure all voices are heard as the city tries to develop urban centers.

"People need to have a voice on how the city is developed," she said. "We want urban centers and want that growth. We need to have everyone's voice to ensure we have the best community possible. I don't want just four or five people making decisions but everyone having input."

Phillips also said the city needs a better community center to reach out to youth.

"Looking at our youth, they don't really have a place to go," Phillips said. "We do have Phoenix Academy but we need something much more because that's only occupying a few. What about families on the West Hill? How do we work to get access to those families?"

Clark vs. Cooke mayoral race

The mayoral showdown between incumbent Suzette Cooke and challenger Tim Clark will appear on the Nov. 5 general ballot. The position is full-time and pays $102,000 per year.

Cooke, in her eighth year as mayor, hopes to get re-elected to a third term. She said the recent start of construction of new apartments looms as a big boost to downtown.

"The key continues to be downtown as a developer is completing higher-end apartments to attract folks from younger working groups who want to use the train, buses and bikes because it's centrally located," Cooke said about the complex going up at Smith Street and Fourth Avenue. "That will help businesses because you need people to survive."

Cooke said she has a proposal to help fill up the empty storefronts along Meeker Street, but couldn't reveal it yet.

"We have a plan but I have not talked about it with the council yet, so it's not proper to talk about it in public," Cooke said when asked about how she would combat the closed businesses downtown.

Clark, in his fourth year on the Kent School Board after serving 16 years on the Kent City Council, said the lack of cooperation between the mayor and the council has helped cause the city's financial struggles.

"You want all of your electives cooperating on the big picture," Clark said about the budget. "It doesn't make sense to have a vision and not set aside resources to reach that vision. I have council members whining at me having trouble not getting accurate or full information from the mayor's office - that's not the way it's supposed to work. As an elective, you are supposed to have the same information."

Clark said he opposes any sale of the par 3 course.

"I accept the par 3 is absolutely necessary to train the next generation of golfers so I'm holding on to it," he said. "It's like a swimming pool. You don't make money off a swimming pool but the catch is that's how you train kids to swim. They are certain things you have to invest in knowing you will not necessarily make money off of it. It's a quality of life you are trying to capture. If you give away assets they are gone forever. You lose the par 3 it's gone forever. I'm not willing to live with that."

Berrios, Schwartz council clash

The council race between Jim Berrios and Wade Schwartz will appear on the Nov. 5 general ballot. The winner will replace Councilwoman Jamie Perry, who decided not to seek re-election.

Berrios, who owns the Golden Steer restaurant on the East Hill, ran for mayor and lost four years ago. He is a former Kent School Board member and current Kent Chamber president. He said his business background will help him analyze city budgets.

"A council member's job is to approve financial expenditures and adopt a budget so you need to be responsible and maximize tax dollars," Berrios said. "I take a business approach to manage those dollars."

Schwartz owns Blanc-n-Schwartz Salon in downtown Kent. He is chair of the city Human Services Commission.

"Our business owners and building owners need a tax break to revitalize business such as with a new facade," Schwartz said about revitalizing downtown. "There are many things we could do to make it a safer and nicer place. Business owners deserve the same tax breaks as new developers."

Schwartz also raised the idea to consolidate the two sets of railroad tracks that go through downtown to one track.

"We need to consolidate railroad tracks on one side or the other," he said. "That would free up a lot of land for parks. I know it would not happen in five or 10 years or so but we need to start the ball rolling."

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