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Let's readjust our focus, prioritize city spending | Guest op
BY STACI WHITEHOUSE
For the Kent Reporter
There have been and handful of articles in recent weeks regarding budget plans for the Kent City Council.
Because of a new business and occupation (B&O) tax, an increase in permit fees for developers and a hike on our cable television, storm drainage, sewer and water taxes, Kent has some extra cash in its bank account.
The question now becomes, where do they allocate this money? The council has discussed hiring more police officers, a city jail corrections officer, adding an administrative assistant to the police chief and that we replace the turf at Wilson Playfields.
I don't know if I am oversimplifying this, but wouldn't it be better to pay our debts before we go spending a bunch of money on other stuff?
As a result of the slow economic rebound, the city of Kent has seen its bond rating downgraded, more than once in the past couple of years. Also, the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex loses money each year and has a $2.25 million debt. In addition, the city is paying $500,000 each year to cover some of the operating losses at the city-owned ShoWare Center. A hundred or so city employees have been laid off and others haven't received a wage increase in some four years.
Shouldn't we take care of these things first? Pay our debts, sell the golf complex, figure out how to make the ShoWare Center profitable, give our city employees a wage increase?
Another interesting suggestion is that we spend some of this extra money on a $60,000 consultant who finds and keeps retail business in Kent. I find this interesting because this month the City Council turned away a marijuana producing and processing plant that would have been a $20 million investment in Kent as well as brought 102 new jobs (ironically, the same number of city positions eliminated in Kent since 2008 to help cut expenses). With those jobs would come 102 new people spending money on gas, groceries, eating at restaurants, paying property taxes ... you get the point?
There also have been several applications to open recreational marijuana retail stores turned away.
Since the voters approved I-502 (by a hefty margin at that), isn't the council going against the will of the people by refusing to allow these companies to do business in Kent? New companies are going to produce, process and sell. Why in the world would we send them away? We say we want to attract more businesses to Kent yet we add a city excise tax and increase permit fees for developers. How do those two things align with our vision to bring in new business?
If Kent were my friend asking me for advice, here is what I would say: repeal your excise tax (Buckley and Black Diamond have), repeal the increase in permit fees for developers, sell the Riverbend Golf Complex, figure out how to make the ShoWare Center profitable and accept the new reality that the marijuana processors and retailers are coming to town.
We need to readjust our vision to the new realities of the future.
Staci Whitehouse is a regular contributor to the Kent Reporter.