Kent City Council committee approves two staff hires at cost of $223,000

A Kent City Council committee reluctantly recommended approval of about a $223,000 budget increase to hire an inspector for the Public Works Department and an engineering technician for the Economic and Community Development Department.

After much discussion, the Operations Committee voted 3-0 on July 1 to recommend the full council approve the two new hires at its July 18 meeting. But the committee questioned the timing of the hires in the middle of the year, after the 2014 budget adjustment and prior to the 2015-16 biennial budget requests.

"It was 3-0 and please note it was with reservations," committee chairman Les Thomas said.

Councilman Bill Boyce said he wished the request had come during budget adjustment preparations in late 2013.

"My question is why now? We planned for the year," Boyce said. "I have a hard time with a little here and a little there and with an inspector you would think you would see this coming down the road."

Tom Brubaker, city interim chief administrative officer, told the committee the hires are needed now because of increased development in Kent.

"We have been trying to pinch pennies and be responsible and get by as well as we can with the staff we have to make things work," Brubaker said. "At the same time the economy is taking off and there is whole lot more development going on, Amazon for example, and many, many others so we are having trouble staying up with the workload."

An inspector would help oversee the utility work done by PSE and Comcast crews as part of new developments. The position would cost about $112,000 per year with benefits.

Kent lost two inspectors to the city of Seattle and two to Bellevue. The city is filling the four vacant positions and wants to hire an additional inspector.

"If revenue stops coming in the door, we don't need the inspector," said Tim LaPorte, public works director, who added the extra permit fees would cover the new position.

Council President Dana Ralph hesitantly gave her approval.

"I'm struggling because I feel we are making a budget decision for the next two years out of context," Ralph said. "We are saying this inspector position is the most important place to add. And it may very well be but I don't feel I have the background to say if we are looking at the city as a whole that this inspector job is the place where we want to spend the money because it makes an impact on a budget we haven't seen yet.

"I feel it's putting the cart before the horse."

The money to cover the rest of 2014 for the positions would come from the city's extra fund balance. That fund is the money left over after the reserves and emergency funds are covered. There's enough money in the fund to cover the request, Brubaker said.

Committee members were more acceptable to hiring an engineering technician, which will cost about $111,000 per year for salary and benefits.

Ben Wolters, city Economic and Community Development director, told the committee the new hire is needed to handle all of the development permits coming into Kent.

"We are $1 million over budget projections in permit revenue and I anticipate that's going to climb to $1.5 million by the end of the year based on projects coming in over the last six months," Wolters said.

Boyce said that hire makes sense.

"We've got $1.5 million over what we anticipated and that requires additional resources to do the work," Boyce said. "I feel like this is the right thing to do. We want to be able to turn these permits around in a short timeframe."

Engineering technicians review all of the plans for adding new sections to the city, including new roads or whatever else is required with a project.

Ralph said she still preferred the talk about plans for a new hire during the year would have happened during budget adjustment talks coming into 2014 rather than midway through this year.

If the full council approves the two new hires, those positions would be added to the 2015-16 biennial budget.

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