Candidates for the Kent City Council participate in a debate: Satwinder Kaur, Paul Addis, Toni Troutner, Tye Whitfield, Brenda Fincher and Russ Hanscom. STEVE HUNTER/Kent Reporter

Kent City Council candidates debate golf complex, fiscal cliff, public safety

Russ Hanscom stirred up a few issues at a Kent City Council debate when he criticized how city leaders have handled the Riverbend Golf Complex, the accesso ShoWare Center and the Seattle Thunderbirds junior hockey team.

Hanscom, a former Kent School Board member running against incumbent Brenda Fincher for a council seat on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, let loose with his attacks at a candidate forum Sept. 28 in front of about 55 people at the Kent Senior Center presented by the website, iLoveKent.net.

“I’m a hockey dad and a golfer,”Hanscom said. “I really know what I’m talking about when it comes to hockey and golf. Quite frankly, when we are talking about how the times are going to be troubled, we are spending millions and millions of dollars on youth hockey and golf.”

The council earlier this year agreed to sell the city’s par 3 golf course property for $10 million to an Auburn developer, who will remove the course to build 500 apartments. City staff has presented a plan to spend $6 million (the other $4 million will pay off the golf fund debt) to upgrade the 18-hole course, driving range and pro shop in an effort to stop Riverbend’s annual losses of about $300,000.

“It is a fool’s errand to spend $6 million on a golf course that has lost millions of dollars over decades,” Hanscom said. “To think you can spend $6 million and get a really good return on your investment, I don’t see it happening.”

Fincher, in her fourth year on council, spoke prior to Hanscom’s comments about her plans for priority issues next year.

“The budget is what we have to tackle first,” Fincher said. “We are already working on a plan as a council and departments for sustainability for the golf course so it pays for itself and so we are not subsidizing it.”

Fincher emphasized her support to form a metropolitan parks district, which voters would have to approve. The district would be funded through a property tax levy and separate parks from the city’s general fund.

“I like a parks district so you have a say about what we have going into that parks district,” Fincher said. “A lot of times with the budget when you put parks against police, parks against public works, parks lose out because people don’t understand the value of parks.”

Hanscom later commented about the recent news of the T-Birds getting sold to new owners. The council must sign off on the sale. The T-Birds are the anchor tenant of the city-owned ShoWare Center.

“Do not approve the sale of the Thunderbirds until we really negotiate a contract that makes sense,” Hansom said. “We negotiated nothing in the city’s best interest in that.”

Troutner vs. Whitfield

In the second of three council races, Toni Troutner is up against Tye Whitfield to replace Dennis Higgins, who decided not to seek re-election.

The two candidates tackled the question at the forum about how Kent can remain financially sustainable with the loss of nearly $10 million in state revenue over the next few years as the state takes away the Panther Lake sales tax annexation monies of about $4.7 million per year and the streamlined sales tax mitigation funds of about $5 million per year.

“The council is going to have to make some tough decisions, and they are going to have to be bold, and they might not be decisions that everyone is going to like,” Troutner said. “But we all have to work together, listen to people in the community and we have to make the right decision for Kent.”

Troutner attended the council workshop last month when Mayor Suzette Cooke presented her 2018 budget adjustment proposal. Troutner said the mayor’s recommended plan to the council to send a utility tax increase to voters to help pay for more police, and an increase in the square footage tax of the business and occupation tax program to help pay for parks, could be the direction to go.

“There are some options in there to help move Kent forward,” Troutner said about facing the so-called fiscal cliff. “We need to start planning for that now. We need to look at the budget and work out a plan so we are prepared for that when it happens.”

Whitfield said the council needs to closely examine the city budget.

“We need to look at what we have to pay,” she said. “Some areas we have a surplus. We have to do an assessment. Everything we have paying out for years, it might not be the same. We need to be more authentic communicating with the public on things that we need to pay and areas we have not been paying.”

Before approving any new taxes or fees, Whitfield wants to know what residents think about how to raise and spend money.

“There are talks about B&O taxes, options with marijuana distribution centers and a transportation improvement district (car tabs) taxes,” Whitfield said. “But it boils down to what do you feel the priority is. If we are going to cut parks, then do you want to put more money in this area?”

Addis vs. Kaur

In the third council race, Paul Addis is running against Satwinder Kaur to replace Jim Berrios, who is running for mayor and whose council term expires at the end of the year. Council positions are part-time jobs that pay $14,808 per year.

Addis and Kaur took on the question at the debate about how to make Kent a safer place to live and work.

“Public safety is top priority when you talk to people in the community,” Addis said. “The parks, roads, businesses you go to, you can’t enjoy those if you don’t feel safe. I sat down with Chief (Ken) Thomas to discuss concerns. The problem they have is staffing. The national average is about 16 officers per 1,000. We are at about 11. We need more officers, first of all. They are overworked and there is a lot of overtime.”

Addis said it could help the department to have a more diverse staff.

“I would like to see the police force look more like the community,” he said. “One thing we can do is talk to those communities of color and find out how we can get the trust rebuilt because we need qualified applicants from those communities.”

Kaur concurred Kent needs a more diverse force.

“I agree we do need to bring in officers that do represent the city of Kent residents and it will help having officers know the community better,” Kaur said.

Kaur, however, talked about the important role residents can play to fight crime.

“But the most effective way, if we don’t have funding to hire more officers, is citizen engagement,” she said. “Block Watch (programs) are a great way to get citizens involved. When I (campaign) and it’s a (city) Neighborhood Council area, they know their neighbors and when they are out of town. They know everybody in their community. Neighborhood Councils really do work. We need more of them. They know everybody who drives by and keeps an eye on people. That is the best way.”

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