A couple of residents and a police officer told the Kent City Council that voters need to approve a utility tax hike to pay for more police because the officers are working too much overtime.
The council voted 7-0 on Tuesday night to place a measure on the April 24 ballot that would increase city utility taxes on electric, natural gas, cable and phone bills to 8 percent from 6 percent. If approved, the measure would bring in about $4.8 million per year to hire 21 more officers over the next three years, boosting the force to 180 members.
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas emphasized in previous council committee meetings that the extra officers would help reduce nearly $2 million in annual overtime costs as well as reduce stress on officers from working so many hours.
Kent resident Harry Williams told the council he agreed officers are working too many hours.
“Two million dollars is a lot of money in overtime but the cost of that in personnel and the degradation of their efficiency – can you imagine working 16-hour shifts?” Williams said. “Can any of you work 16-hour shifts on a continuing basis? We expect our men and women in uniform on the streets to work 16-hour shifts and I find that unbelievable. So $2 million in overtime is nothing compared to the human costs.
“We must work together, the elected officials and the citizens of Kent. It’s so important we present a united front. There are always the naysayers (who oppose tax increases) but we have to lead them along so we are convincing them that this is important. Because without a strong police presence, many bad things start to happen.”
With the tax jumps, a typical family of four household would pay an estimated $136 more per year in utility taxes based on a current monthly average of $570 in utility bills, according to city finance staff. Cities can raise utility taxes to 6 percent without voter approval under state law. Any amount above that must be approved by voters.
“That’s the dollar amount but what about the human life here?” Kent resident Hira Singh Bhullar said of high overtime costs. “They put their life in danger to serve us for public safety. We need life balance. This is very important. I request the citizens of Kent to work for this and approve it.”
Kent Police Officer Wayne Graff told the council about the impact of overtime.
“Our officers are increasingly tired and worn out from working too much overtime, working too many days and from juggling too many tasks,” Graff said. “They are dedicated to making sure that nothing gets missed but things are getting missed. These officers are missing their children’s birthdays and soccer matches. They are missing their anniversaries and times with their spouses. They are missing the downtime that makes them human beings who can relate with the members of our community.”
Nobody testified against the measure. The council also voted 7-0 to endorse the tax hike, which will be known as Proposition A on the ballot.