Kent City budget could see major cuts
By STEVE HUNTER
Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter
September 3, 2009 · 7:19 PM
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke plans to propose $3.1 million in job and service cuts when she presents her 2010 preliminary budget next month to the City Council. Jobs could be among those items on the chopping block.
“There now is a strong likelihood we will not be able to save jobs and we will reduce services that the public relies on,” Cooke said at a Tuesday Council workshop. “There will be an impact to employees and services. It might be full programs or a reduction in the level of service.”
Cooke said no cuts would be made to the police or fire departments. Other city department heads, such as parks, public works, finance and planning, have been asked to submit cuts as deep as 10 to 15 percent to their budgets.
“Public safety (police and fire) represents about 50 percent of the general fund, so there needs to be greater cuts in other areas to maintain public safety,” Cooke said. “We will not present what those cuts will be at this time because it is too early in the process.”
John Hodgson, city administrator, said after the workshop that it’s hard to say at this point how many employees might be cut to reach a proposed general fund budget of $81.3 million.
“For every $1 million in cuts that equals about 13 employees,” Hodgson said. “But it may be other cuts (in supplies) as well.”
For example, if the city cuts a specific city service or program, 75 percent of the costs could be for staff and 25 percent for supplies, Hodgson said.
City staff is projecting revenue shortfall of $2.1 million next year because of what Cooke called a “flat recovery” in the economy in 2010.
Cooke also said at a Council workshop Tuesday that she wants to set aside an additional $1 million in the budget for a flood-related emergency fund, in case the city gets hit with winter floodwater from the Green River because of storage-capacity problems at the Howard Hanson Dam.
Cooke will present her preliminary budget to the Council in early October. City officials have yet to set a date for that meeting. Public hearings regarding the proposed budget will take place this fall at dates to be determined before the Council considers the final budget for 2010 in late November or early December.
Salaries and benefits for city employees comprised about $65 million of the $80.8 million general fund budget for 2009.
All four Kent city unions as well as a group of non-represented employees voted to take pay cuts last spring for the rest of 2009 to save the city about $1.3 million and avoid layoffs. That’s not expected to be an option in 2010.
“We can’t rely on what occurred in 2009 as a way to get through 2010,” Cooke said. “The furloughs and deferred compensation are not on the table.”
It’s possible cuts might have to be even deeper than $3.1 million if sales-tax revenue declines even more than expected for the final few months of 2009.
“We will have a Plan A to institute $3.1 million in cuts,” Hodgson said. “Plan B will be in our back pocket if we need further reductions.”
Cooke wants $1 million set aside for a flood emergency fund because of the uncertainty of the Hanson Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Corps officials are trying to figure out how to resolve a leak that showed up in January in the right abutment of the dam.
“They might not have a resolution in three to five years, so that’s how long we will have to live in limbo,” Cooke said.
If the Green River overflows the levees, the city might be unable to use its municipal court along Central Avenue. City officials would need to spend money to possibly rent a temporary facility.
“If we can’t use the court, we will need a (court) site elsewhere,” Hodgson said.
Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger said at the workshop that she believes Cooke and her staff are taking the right approach to cut the budget as need be rather than making huge cuts all at once looking ahead to 2010.
“We’ll have plenty of time in November to readjust,” Ranniger said if the $3.1 million of proposed cuts comes up short. “It’s an ongoing effort to manage our way through the crisis with the least amount of negative impact as possible. The cautious, slow approach makes sense because it’s up to us as leaders not to instill panic.”
Councilman Tim Clark said he doubts whether $3.1 million in cuts will be enough.
“I’m slower than some of my colleagues in agreeing with how the recovery looks,” said Clark, who expects the shortfall for 2010 to be as much as $6 million because of lower sales-tax revenues.
The Council will see the city’s preliminary budget in early October. City officials have yet to set a date for that meeting.
Public hearings regarding the proposed budget will take place this fall at dates to be determined before the Council considers the final budget for 2010 in late November or early December.Contact Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter Steve Hunter at email@example.com or 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.