Kent: 2009 proposed budget reflects lean financial times

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke proposed a “hold-the-line” 2009 budget Tuesday to the City Council in an effort to keep the city away from job or service cuts during a struggling economy.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke proposed a “hold-the-line” 2009 budget Tuesday to the City Council in an effort to keep the city away from job or service cuts during a struggling economy.

“We can’t go into the budget process this year not realizing how the economy is shaping concerns of citizens and our bottom line,” Cooke told the Council at a budget workshop at City Hall. “Our budget is balanced. It’s a hold-the-line budget.

“By delayed filling of open positions, extending our vehicle fleet usage, and reviewing and adjusting contracts, we’ve been able to insulate ourselves in the short term from the multi-million dollar gaps experienced by some of our neighboring cities,” Cooke added.

The budget Cooke is proposing outlines $163.4 million in net expenditures. That amount includes monthly jumps next year for residents in water rates and storm-drainage rates.

The base water rate will climb 22 percent to $6.43 per month from $5.26 per month for each customer, starting in 2009. That would be an increase of about $14 per year per customer.

The storm-drainage rate could jump as high as 46 percent to $8.75 per month from $6 per month for the average basic rate per customer. That would be an increase of $33 per year per customer.

“These increases are necessary to implement long-term structural maintenance and replacement of Kent’s drainage and water systems, including the Green River levees,” Cooke said. “Some of the water and sewer pipes are over 50 years old and have reached their lifetime safety limit.”

Cooke plans to continue the city’s policy, started in August, to leave open as many as 100 jobs in an effort to reduce spending, due to rising costs and declining tax revenues. So far, 20 positions remain unfilled. The city employs 825.

John Hodgson, city chief administrative officer, and Cooke meet with department heads regarding job openings, to determine whether the city could wait to fill each vacancy.

“If a position opens Jan. 2, we will lag that position,” Hodgson told the Council Tuesday.

Cooke’s budget, however, does propose adding three full-time positions — a prosecutor, an information technology administrative assistant and a parks maintenance worker.

Funding will be provided by Criminal Justice Funds, or rearrangement of existing funds and part-time positions. There is no impact on the City’s General Fund.

The mayor also included in the budget six “hire-ahead” positions –three in police and three in fire – in order to keep both departments fully staffed. Those six positions are not counted as full-time employees in the budget because it takes between 12 and 18 months (hence the term “hire ahead”) to bring a new police officer or firefighter on board with the amount of recruiting and training required.

Commercial and housing developers in Kent could face a 15 percent increase in city permit fees in 2009 under Cooke’s budget. The proposed higher fees are needed to cover the cost-of-living increases in salaries and benefits for city employees over the last two years, Cooke said.

Ten percent, or about $16 million, of the budget will be held in reserve for emergency dollars.

Bob Nachlinger, city finance director, told the Council the 2009 budget anticipates that the city will continue to see a decline in retail and housing activity in the first quarter of next year.

“In the second quarter, we look for that to level out and then see growth in the third and fourth quarters,” Nachlinger said. “If we do not see leveling off in April, there will still be a lot of time to make adjustments. It’s a very conservative budget.”

But if economic activity fails to pick up early next year, the city will have to look at where to make job cuts and which capital projects can be delayed, Hodgson said.

“We might have to come back next year to balance the budget,” Hodgson said.

Cooke agreed the city’s financial picture could change next year if the economy continues to struggle.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t get to that and that the turbulent times level off,” Cooke told the Council.

For now, the mayor remained confident.

“Our foundation is strong,” Cooke said. “That’s why we present a balanced budget where there is no harm done.”

Learn more

• To view the preliminary 2009 Kent budget, go

online to, and click on “government.”

Then click on “budget”

• The Council will conduct a public hearing 7 p.m.

Oct. 21 at City Hall to take comment on the


• Another public hearing is slated for Nov. 18

— the night the Council considers formal adoption

of the budget.

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