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Kent City Council cuts neighborhood traffic calming programs from B&O project list

Kent business owners won out over residents during the City Council's decision about how to spend business and occupation (B&O) tax revenue this year on street repairs.

The council at a March 4 workshop cut $500,000 for three neighborhood traffic calming programs (installing traffic circles to slow vehicles) from the $4.7 million budget.

That decision angered Scott Bugbee, one of the Panther Lake residents who has worked to get city officials to slow traffic along Southeast 223rd Drive. Residents along the street started to contact the city about the speeding problem shortly after Kent annexed Panther Lake in 2010. The movement for action intensified after a speeding drunk driver hit and killed motorcyclist David Daniel in 2012 along the street.

"I am very upset by this," Bugbee said in an email. "It may be sufficient cause for me to actually support and organize support for different candidates. They had better have a good explanation."

Council members dropped the neighborhood projects after objections from business leaders.

Andrea Keikkala, chief executive officer of the Kent Chamber of Commerce, wrote a column in the Feb. 28 Kent Reporter and sent a letter to the council that the funds should be spent on street repairs and not neighborhood street projects because city officials before they enacted the tax in January 2013 told the chamber the money would be used for emergency street repairs.

"(The decision was) in keeping with the spirit of the conversation with the business community regarding the B&O that these projects reflect maintenance and overlay, so the items removed were the neighborhood traffic calming program to the tune of about $500,000," Council President Dana Ralph said at the workshop. "(Councilman Dennis) Higgins pointed out that it is incumbent on this council to find money (in the future) to fund those programs and I definitely agree with that."

Council members did not discuss removing the neighborhood traffic control projects at a Feb. 18 council workshop or a Jan. 27 Public Works Committee meeting when city staff presented a project list.

The first conversation among the council about dropping neighborhood traffic control projects came at a Feb. 24 Public Works Committee meeting when Councilman Jim Berrios, president of the Kent Chamber, raised the issue. Berrios, who was not a council member at the time, said as a chamber representative he discussed with city officials two years ago that the business community would support a B&O tax if the funds were used for street repairs.

The other two neighborhood traffic calming programs removed from the project list included 100th Avenue Southeast between Southeast 208th Street and Southeast 216th Street; and 42nd Avenue South between South 250th Street and South 253rd Street. The Southeast 223rd Drive project stretches between 116th Avenue Southeast and 132nd Avenue Southeast.

"When (city staff) put together this list and included some non-overlay projects, I don't blame them for that because they know what is really needed," Higgins said at the workshop. "Likewise, I don't blame the chamber for pointing out that the B&O tax wouldn't exist if not for their support and the process we went through two years ago. They're doing their job and the city staff is doing their job."

Higgins has visited with residents along Southeast 223rd Drive about speeding problems. He said he regretted removing the projects from the 2014 list.

"When we took those projects off the B&O fund list, we have to find a way to fund those important projects," he said. "When we get to the budget this fall I'm certainly going to be looking for non-B&O funds to take care of some of those projects.

"We pared this list back to honor the commitments that we made two years ago with B&O conversations that occurred but we have more work to do as a council."

Tom Brubaker, city interim chief administrative officer, told the Public Works Committee in January that the language in the B&O tax ordinance doesn't limit which street, sidewalk or curb projects are funded.

"It's wide open how you apply it," said Brubaker, who added the administration favored funding the neighborhood traffic programs.

Ralph said more funds are needed as well for other street repairs.

"This list was presented to this council as a menu and I think that term is very applicable here," Ralph said. "It points out the list of the many needs we have when it comes to our transportation infrastructure and it reinforces to me that we need to find some funding sources to get some of these projects accomplished. I think this is a good start, but it's just a start."

Ralph then asked the council at its workshop, "Any objections to this list?"

Nobody responded to the question and the council moved on to its next topic.

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