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Kent City Council approves police hires; money for turf at Wilson Playfields

The city of Kent plans to replace the synthetic turf in 2014 at Wilson Playfields at an estimated cost of more than $1.5 million. - Kent Reporter, file photo
The city of Kent plans to replace the synthetic turf in 2014 at Wilson Playfields at an estimated cost of more than $1.5 million.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

The Kent City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to hire six police officers and spend $500,000 toward the replacement of the Wilson Playfields synthetic turf.

The council also approved as part of its 2013-14 general fund budget adjustments the hiring of a jail corrections officer, an administrative assistant to the police chief and a consultant to help bring more retail stores to the city.

The council adopted its first two-year budget last December, rather than voting each year on a budget. The council decisions are adjustments to the 2013-14 budget because more revenue came in this year than the city spent, a total of $1.9 million. Council members decided to spend a portion of that money on new hires and field turf replacement.

"This adjustment does allow us to restore some of the things that we had to do without during the recession," Council President Dennis Higgins said. "It allows us to get more police on the streets and allows us to deal with backlog in the permit office and allows us to fix a very critical city facility in the Wilson Playfields.

"I think this is a wise adjustment at this time."

Bill Boyce, Les Thomas, Deborah Ranniger and Dana Ralph also voted for the budget ordinance. Elizabeth Albertson and Jamie Perry, the two council members whose terms expire at the end of this year as they each decided not to seek re-election, voted against it.

"We still have a systemic budget imbalance that hasn't been addressed," Albertson said. "Although I was proud of the work we did with the B&O (business and occupation tax passed last year), we all know that the B&O did not go far enough. Our budget is still dramatically out of balance as the mayor's letter to employees points out. We have a temporary boost that we are going to use to pay bills. That's not the same as having a clear revenue stream to support budget increases."

Mayor Suzette Cooke sent a letter Wednesday to city employees (and to the Kent Reporter) to explain the general fund budget. In the letter, Cooke said that city revenues grow by 1.5 to 2 percent per year while expenses average a 3 to 3.5 percent increase. She said the increased revenue this year was "a temporary boost to our bottom line."

Perry said the additional hires now when the city has extra revenue could lead to financial problems down the road.

"We are also sort of exacerbating the problem a bit when you have ongoing expenses like employees," Perry said. "You would just feel terrible adding these employees and then in 2017 when it looks like we don't have the net revenues less expenditures is in the negative and we're taking it out of reserves, at that point you feel pretty terrible saying 'I'm sorry we hired you but we've got to let you go,' or telling council you've got to find some revenue.

"The city can't sustain on the current revenue and there's got to be something major that changes. I'm saying to future council members good luck in solving this problem. I hope you can come up with a great solution. I feel bad passing this problem on to future councils."

The general fund budget includes $520,000 to help cover the revenue losses anticipated in 2014 at the city-owned ShoWare Center. City officials have allocated another $300,000 to the parks capital projects fund to pay for maintenance and rehabilitation of ShoWare facilities.

City officials also are trying to figure out what to do about the financially struggling Riverbend Golf Complex and are looking into selling the par 3 course portion of the property to a developer. A decision about the potential property sale is expected to be made next year.

The $500,000 for Wilson Playfields will go toward the estimated $1.5 million to $2 million cost to replace the synthetic turf at the popular soccer, baseball and softball complex along 132nd Avenue Southeast. Another $800,000 for the field will come from the real estate excise tax and carryover money from previous years, said Tom Brubaker, city interim chief administrative officer. The rest of the money will be from delaying other park improvements.

Installation of the new turf is expected to start in late May, said Jeff Watling, city parks director.

The police officers will cost about $686,000, the administrative 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.

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