Kent City Councilmembers were able to reach a compromise on the city’s future budget, approving unanimously the 2021-2022 budget Nov. 17. The budget includes expenses of $107.1 million for 2021 and $110.7 million for 2022.
“This is not what all of us want 100%, but it’s a compromise,” Councilmember Satwinder Kaur said at the Nov. 17 council meeting. “I want to appreciate and thank all my colleagues for the dialogue we had, and we will continue having the conversation on equity. This is not done, just because this budget is done. I will make sure I continue asking the questions I am asking, and I will continue to be in the conversation.”
This statement, and other councilmembers’ budget comments, came after numerous members of ForFortyTwo, a group of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) youth from Kent that formed over the summer to combat systemic racism in Kent and the Kent School District, spoke and wrote in at the Nov. 17 council meeting. The group had a list of budget demands, which included:
■ Do not invest another $864,000 into new police vehicles.
■ Develop a fair, public, and independent review process of police killings and police brutality.
■ Defund the Kent Police Department by $22.7 million (50%).
■ Demilitarize Kent PD and cut ties between the police department and the Kent School District.
■ Reallocate the funding proposed for an equity manager toward the development of a fully independent and fully funded participatory budgeting process so that the people have control of how money is spent.
■ Invest in Black-led spaces and solutions in accordance with King County Equity Now’s recommendations
A handful of Kent residents also spoke for the opposite reason — wanting to increase police funding. Overall the council heard about 45 minutes of public comment related to police funding in the proposed budget.
Several members of ForFortyTwo commented on Councilmember Les Thomas, who earlier in the evening said he didn’t understand why people would want to defund police when crime was rising in Kent. In response to the public comment, Thomas said he enjoyed hearing those comments and letters from both sides of the police funding conversation and that he thought their letters were well-written. Later during budget remarks, Thomas also encouraged ForFortyTwo to continue engaging with council, and to get started with demands much earlier in the next budget cycle.
“This is the way you get things done. You don’t always get your way, but you get some way,” he said.
Kaur assured the community members who spoke at public comment that the council was listening and taking their asks into consideration, and that she wants to talk to ForFortyTwo in the future.
The city council decided not to defund the police, but did add other additional funds to equity programs. One of the new proposals for 2021-2022 includes an equity manager, costing $243,790 in 2021 and $218,420 in 2022. Kaur said at the Nov. 17 budget discussion that she hopes the city’s Cultural Communities Board will be included in the work to create a job description for the equity manager.
Councilmember Brenda Fincher also thanked the groups that offered public comment, and also added that she will be meeting with ForFortyTwo
“We represent a city that has different opinions, but one thing we strived to do was create a budget that was going to work for equity, and for all the people of Kent,” Fincher said. “To all the people that wrote or spoke, whether it was to thank us for a sports program or give us your opinion to defund or not to defund, thank you.”
Fincher emphasized in her comments that she agreed large police departments do not equal safer communities, but said Kent already has a smaller officer staff than most cities its size and that she could not see herself cutting further positions.
The council agreed in September that it wouldn’t take any steps to defund the police department, emphasizing that the Kent Police Department already has fewer officers per 1,000 residents than other Washington cities with a rate of 1.24 officers per 1,000 residents. Instead, Fincher suggested a safer community requires a police department that is well-trained and part of the community.
Councilmember Bill Boyce also spoke during budget comments on the idea of defunding the police, and said to him it’s more important that there is accountability. He commented on Kent police officers who were removed from the department for not meeting their standards.
With both the question of equity and police, as well as juggling the financial concerns with COVID-19, there was a lot for the council to consider in this round of budgeting. Councilmember Marli Larimer thanked staff and the mayor for a more difficult budget process due to the number of questions. Larimer said it was a good compromise to commit funding to both youth mental health funding ($200,000) and transparency for the police department data ($50,000).
The council made a few changes since Mayor Dana Ralph proposed the budget in September, but ultimately created a status quo financial package, with no further cuts to the budget. Significant cuts were already made during 2020 for anticipated revenue loss this year and in 2021 due to COVID-19, as previously reported in the Kent Reporter.
Ralph said she hopes in the future to include more community input on the budget, which she said she missed the most about an in-person process, as it was physically restrained due to COVID-19.