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Kent Mayor Cooke proposes $7 million in city budget cuts

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke recommended Tuesday night that the City Council make $7 million in spending cuts for the rest of this year because of declining revenues.

Cooke proposed that seven employees be cut or have hours reduced and that 29 employees be switched from the city’s general fund to fill new positions July 1 when the city annexes about 24,000 residents in the Panther Lake area.

City officials already had decided to operate the annexation area under a separate budget from July to December of this year from the general fund budget.

The state will reimburse the city for the costs of annexation beyond what revenue is generated in the Panther Lake area for each of the next 10 years.

John Hodgson, city chief administrative officer, told the Council the city will get about $3.7 million from the state this year to help cover annexation costs.

“The recession is not easing its grip on Kent’s finances,” Cooke said in a city media release issued Tuesday night after she made her presentation at a Council workshop at City Hall. “We projected flat revenues for 2010, but tax collections and fees continue to decline below 2009 levels.”

The proposed reductions in staff and services in every city department, including moving 29 employees to cover jobs in the annexation area, would cut the city’s general fund budget by about $5.18 million.

Cooke’s recommendation does not cut the number of police officers and firefighters on the streets.

Another $2.2 million in proposed savings would include $600,000 from keeping vacant positions open; $600,000 to be taken from an unused $1 million flood fight fund; and $475,000 in pre-annexation costs that would be billed to the annexation budget.

Other proposed budget adjustments include reducing the number of city Spotlight Series performances so that the series is self-supporting; move some police officers from special units to patrol; switch some firefighters from special units to fire suppression; reduce staff in developmental services because of a continual decline in commercial development; elimination of the lunch subsidy program at the Kent Senior Center; and reduce support to the Kent Meridian pool.

Hodgson said the city isn’t losing money, but the mayor, staff and Council set a 2010 budget goal to keep a reserve fund at $6.3 million or 8.1 percent of the $80.3 million general fund budget adopted by the Council in December.

The city cut 28 employees, eliminated 25 vacant positions and made other spending reductions last fall from the 2010 budget because of revenue shortfalls in 2009. Those reductions saved the city more than $6 million.

“Our goal is to get back to 8.1 percent by the end of 2010,” City Finance Director Bob Nachlinger told the Council Tuesday. “That’s why we recommended $7 million reductions in expenditures. Our revenue is off about $520,000 for the first two months of 2010.”

Cooke proposed about $100,000 in new revenue by doubling the parking violations to $40 from $20 for people who park beyond the 2-hour limits in restricted areas downtown and by adding a 5 percent admissions tax to green fees at the city-owned Riverbend Golf Course.

Cooke also asked the Council for other revenue-raising ideas.

The Council will spend the next few weeks discussing the proposed budget cuts and will have the final say on what cuts and changes are made. The Council is expected to make that decision by early May.

Council President Jamie Perry said the Council’s Operations Committee will have a public hearing on the budget proposals at 4 p.m. April 20 at City Hall.

“We also are available for you to contact us with any feedback you have by e-mail or phone,” Perry said.

For more information about Council contacts, go to www.ci.kent.wa.us.

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