Mayor Cooke says Kent needs to spend more on staff to oversee B&O tax

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke says $300,000 per year for two city auditors isn
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke says $300,000 per year for two city auditors isn't enough to oversee the city's B&O tax.
— image credit: Steve Hunter/Kent Reporter

Apparently, $300,000 a year for two auditors to oversee the city of Kent's business and occupation (B&O) tax isn't enough.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke told the City Council at its Tuesday night workshop that the city needs to spend more money for more staff. The council adopted the tax in 2012 to help pay for street repairs. The tax became effective in January 2013.

"The $300,000 you have set aside from the B&O tax for staffing of the B&O is showing itself to be clearly not sufficient," Cooke said at a workshop to discuss where to spend the nearly $5 million annual revenue from the tax. "The auditors have not been able to do one single audit yet in setting up the system.

"Just as a heads up when you look at this budget I urge you not to get too hung up on the $300,000 staff costs that you've looked at for the administration of it. It will be more."

Councilman Bill Boyce had a quick question for Cooke.

"Do you have any idea what more is?" Boyce said.

"No and we won't do that until we provide it to the (council's) Operations Committee," said Cooke, who expects to present a staffing proposal within the next couple of months. "I'm just speaking in advance since you're looking at the budget and if you get down to looking at spending every nickel and dime towards the projects and letting the staff element of it go, we're going to find ourselves in a real quagmire here in trying to work more efficiently and effectively in actually implementing. We need auditors out there to get dollars that aren't coming in."

The auditing budget of $300,000 includes $226,468 in salary and benefits to the two auditors; $19,576 in computer and telephone services; $47,756 for tools, equipment and software; $5,200 for dues, membership fees, travel and training; and $1,000 for office supplies.

Tom Brubaker, city interim chief administrative officer, told the council the auditors are tied up with setting up the tax.

"Building this tax framework and getting the software right has eaten up all of the time of our auditors," Brubaker said. "And our chief auditor (who oversees the two B&O tax auditors) has been almost all B&O tax so he's not doing what he normally does and his tasks are all on the back burner and we need him to be our auditor.

"We're trying to get our arms around this and understand how big of a problem it is and come back to you with a more complete picture. We've talked to other cities and there's a general consensus that we are maybe a little understaffed. There is a lot of administrative work to make it happen."

The council discussed but didn't decide which street projects should be done this year. Staff recommendations will go to the council's Public Works Committee for further discussion and the project list is expected to go before the full council on March 4.

Council members asked staff to look at reducing a proposed asphalt overlay along North Central Avenue that's estimated to cost $2.6 million between Smith Street and South 228th Street. In order to fund a variety of other street repairs as well as sidewalk repairs and neighborhood traffic control programs, the council wants to know how much it would cost for a shorter asphalt overlay along North Central between Smith Street and James Street.


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