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Kent City Council committee approves police hires, field turf replacement

The city of Kent would hire six police officers in 2014 under a budget ordinance that goes before the City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 10. - Kent Reporter, file photo
The city of Kent would hire six police officers in 2014 under a budget ordinance that goes before the City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

A Kent City Council committee voted 2-1 to approve in 2014 new police and jail hires, replacement of the Wilson Playfields synthetic turf and hiring a consultant to help bring more retail business to town.

Council President Dennis Higgins and Les Thomas voted for the budget adjustments at the Tuesday meeting of the Operations Committee. Jamie Perry voted against it. The budget adjustment ordinance goes to the full council for approval at its 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10 meeting at City Hall.

The council has a $1.9 million surplus heading into the second year of the 2013-14 budget. The committee voted to spend about $1.2 million with the rest going to pay down internal debt if the money is still there by the end of 2014.

Higgins said the council understands the $1.9 million is a one-time surplus. That extra is on top of the cash set aside in a reserve fund of $4.4 million and a contingency fund of $1.5 million for unanticipated costs.

"We're trying to be very conservative in how we spend it," Higgins said at the Tuesday meeting. "The bulk of the money as it is planned now will go to pay off internal debt. I want to make sure the community understands the council is being quite conservative with this one-time surplus and is acting very frugally with it to preserve a key city asset in Wilson Playfields that would otherwise be shut down."

About $500,000 would go toward replacing the synthetic turf at Wilson Playfields, a popular soccer, baseball and softball complex along 132nd Avenue Southeast. The cost to replace the turf is an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million. The rest of the The rest of the funds for the turf replacement next year would come out of the capital projects fund.

The budget adjustment also includes the hiring of six police officers, an administrative assistant to the police chief and a city jail corrections officer. The police officers will cost about $686,000, the assistant $93,000 and the jail officer $86,000. Another $60,000 would be spent to hire a consultant for recruitment and retention of retail businesses.

Perry said she opposes the budget adjustments because she believes the city needs to stop spending more money until its revenue forecasts improve.

"We have projections that over the next foreseeable future it may be that we can't even pay current expenses," Perry said. "Although our budget is balanced, it's structurally imbalanced over the next five to 10 years. My concern is we are adding things in without adding the revenue necessary to be able to sustain that in the future."

Tom Brubaker, interim city chief administrative officer, told the council at a budget workshop two weeks ago that even with conservative forecasting the city would spend more than it brings in over the next four years.

"I'm afraid over the coming years getting additional revenue coming into the city is going to be a tough sell," said Perry, whose four-year term expires this month. "If I felt we had the revenue to sustain this budget in the future I would have no problem voting for it and adding additional staff the city absolutely needs. The current staffing levels are not sustainable. We need more police officers and people throughout the city but we need to address how to pay for those people. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to come up with that silver bullet that solves the revenue problem.

"I am hoping the council in the future will address that but I can't guarantee it will. For that reason, I'm not comfortable passing a budget that we believe based on future projections is not going to be sustainable in the future."

The council adopted its first two-year budget in December 2012, rather than voting each year on a budget. The decisions this year are adjustments to the 2013-14 budget.

The city budget is available online at http://kentwa.gov/Budget.aspx.

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