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Kent voters to decide in November whether to build new police headquarters

Chief Ken Thomas stands near a portion of a hallway converted to an office at the Kent Police station. The City Council referred a measure on Tuesday to ask voters in November to approve a bond for a new police headquarters. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Chief Ken Thomas stands near a portion of a hallway converted to an office at the Kent Police station. The City Council referred a measure on Tuesday to ask voters in November to approve a bond for a new police headquarters.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Kent voters will decide on the Nov. 4 ballot whether they want to pay more in property taxes for a new police headquarters.

The Kent City Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday night to approve an ordinance to send the measure to voters. Councilman Jim Berrios had an excused absence from the seven-member council.

"We know how bad the jail is and how bad the (police) facility is, it's crowded," said Councilman Les Thomas prior to a vote by the council's Operations Committee earlier Tuesday to send the ordinance to the full council. "You just have to take one walk through there, it's ridiculous."

City officials want voters to approve a $34 million bond to be paid over 20 years. The property tax rate would be 19 cents per $1,000 assessed value or about $57 per year for a $300,000 home. The bond measure requires 60 percent voter approval.

Police Chief Ken Thomas asked the council at a workshop in April to send the measure to voters this fall. Kent has 144 officers and is expected to have 160 by 2016. The current station was remodeled in 1991 to handle about 75 officers. Employees are scattered at four different sites.

Tom Brubaker, interim chief administrative officer, told the Operations Committee just how bad conditions are.

"The building is old, it's too small," Brubaker said. "We don't have adequate room for training, adequate locker rooms or storage rooms. We have people stacked in cubicles and operating out of hallways. We are jam-packed."

City officials plan to tear down the current police headquarters next to City Hall along Fourth Avenue South. The 19,000-square-foot facility would be replaced by a two-story, 48,000-square-foot building. Officers would be housed at temporary locations during construction which could take 12 to 18 months.

About $800,000 of the bond would be used to pay to rewire and replumb the city jail along Central Avenue and add a couple of new cells to handle inmates with mental health issues. Brubaker said the repairs would help the jail last for another 30 years. Funds also would be spent to increase capacity at the police firearm and vehicle training range.

"We have a high number of inmates in our municipal jail with mental health issues and we do not have enough mental health crisis cells," Brubaker said.

David Huhs, an attorney with the Curran Law Firm in Kent, will head a citizens committee to try to get voters to approve the new police building.

"Our committee has met, we've had three meetings," Huhs said to the council's Operations Committee. "We've discussed some campaign strategy. I think we've done a good job of getting out into the community and already talking to stakeholders and influential people in the community that can help us reach citizens and get them out to vote.

"We think this is something that absolutely needs to get done. I will be the fearless leader to try to take this campaign on. The committee is ready to roll."

Brubaker reminded the council that the state has strict laws against using city facilities to support or oppose the ballot measure. He suggested the council meet with Acting City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick to go over campaign rules.

Previous police chiefs Steve Strachan and Ed Crawford each tried to get a new headquarters built. A few studies were done, but the most recent proposal by Strachan several years ago got pushed back when the recession hit.

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