Budget cuts unappetizing, senior center staffers tell Kent City Council

Seven members of the Kent Senior Activity Center let a City Council committee know Tuesday that they oppose the proposed cuts to the lunch subsidy program at the facility.

Seven members of the Kent Senior Activity Center let a City Council committee know Tuesday that they oppose the proposed cuts to the lunch subsidy program at the facility.

The estimated $30,000 annual subsidy is part of $7 million in spending cuts for the rest of this year recommended April 6 to the Council by Mayor Suzette Cooke because of declining revenues.

“The bottom line is if there are any cuts to the senior center subsidy lunch program, at least wait until the end of the year so we can work to get support,” said Ken Carlson, who serves as a lunch cashier at the senior center, during public testimony at the Council’s Operations Committee. “It is an important program for a lot of senior citizens.”

No other residents showed up to testify about any other proposed cuts.

Cooke’s plan cuts more than $5 million from the city’s general fund budget by moving 29 employees to cover jobs in the Panther Lake annexation area starting July 1 when 24,000 residents join the city; cutting or reduced hours of seven employees and reduction of services in every department.

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; and reduce support to the Kent Meridian pool.

The city isn’t losing money, but the mayor 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 reserve fund came up $4.3 million short of the goal of $6.3 million at the end of 2009, mainly because of revenue drops in the sales tax and utility tax. The reserve-fund total for the end of 2009 came in at $2 million or 2.6 percent of the general fund budget.

The goal of the cuts is to get the reserve fund back to 8.1 percent of the general fund budget by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the senior center lunch program remains in operation at 600 E. Smith St.

“Our goal is to keep the lunch program,” said Jeff Watling, city director of parks, recreation and community services.

Watling said the city subsidizes the lunch program out of the general fund because not enough people buy the lunch.

Consolidated Food Management, based on Mercer Island, contracts with the city to serve lunch Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The cost for lunch is $6. The deli is open to anyone, not only senior citizens. The lunch includes choices of entrees, sandwiches, soups and salads as well as a beverage and dessert.

The city’s contract guarantees Consolidated Food Management a minimum of 80 lunches per day. Any number fewer than that, the city pays for.

“The majority of days we don’t hit the minimum,” Watling said. “We could renegotiate with the vendor, but it would be difficult for them to go lower than an 80 minimum. It’s a challenge on us to solve.”

Lea Bishop, senior-center facility manager, told the committee that 88 lunches were served Tuesday, but the average has been 65 per day over the last couple of months.

“If we cut the subsidy, the vendor will go away,” Bishop said. “Consolidated Food Management made about $800 last year and $47 the year before. They can’t reduce the 80-meal minimum. It cost them $5.41 per meal with one cook and one part-time helper.”

Panera Bread started to serve lunch each Wednesday last fall at the center. But Bishop said Panera might drop out of the program because it’s too costly for them.

After hearing from Orval Dealy, another senior center member, that a sign to promote the lunch could not be posted outside the facility because of city codes, Council members said they would look into changing the code to allow the sign.

“We used to have a banner to tell the public about the lunch,” Dealy said. “We need to let people know it’s available.”

The Council plans to continue to discuss the budget-cut recommendations by Cooke at a workshop at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The Council has yet to determine when it might make any changes to the budget cuts or possibly come up with additional revenue measures.

Cooke recommended raising 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.

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