Money for sidewalks, jobs for homeless people to remove graffiti and a pre-apprenticeship program for people to get construction jobs were among the items added by the Kent City Council to the 2022 city budget adjustment.
Council members also discussed plans the majority of them support in Mayor Dana Ralph’s budget proposal to spend $2.8 million for traffic improvements at Willis Street and Naden Avenue in the Valley and $1 million for landscaping upgrades at Veterans Drive and Military Road South on the West Hill.
The mayor’s staff proposed using $500,000 from federal relief (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to start a sidewalk matching grant fund with plans to get state or federal grants to help pay for sidewalks. If no matching grants are found, the $500,000 would be used directly for sidewalks, said Derek Matheson, city chief administrative officer, in his report to the council at its Oct. 19 budget workshop.
Matheson said the idea to put money aside for sidewalks was in response to comments made at an Oct. 5 budget workshop by Councilmember Marli Larimer and public hearing testimony Oct. 5 at a council meeting by two Kent residents about the need for sidewalk and bicycle path improvements near Southeast 256th Street and 132nd Avenue Southeast on the East Hill.
“I like that idea,” Councilmember Bill Boyce said about a sidewalk fund. “Are there any priorities for sidewalks? There are probably quite a few we need.”
Chad Bieren, city Public Works director, responded that staff is working on a priority list. He said aging sidewalks that need to be replaced and sidewalks that would complete gaps along certain streets could receive priority funding.
Councilmember Brenda Fincher and Larimer at the Oct. 5 budget workshop discussed the potential of a program that would employ homeless people or at-risk youth to help remove graffiti around town. Larimer made reference to a new King County program to employ homeless people to work at parks.
Mayor Ralph reached out to King County Executive Dow Constantine about the county program and came to an agreement to partner with the county on the program at a cost of $200,000 in 2022.
“We would take $200,000 of city funds to give to the county for a team dedicated to the city of Kent,” Ralph said.
The mayor further explained that the county would cover the overhead costs, including supervision, and handle the transportation of workers to Kent.
The $200,000 would come from the American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The city will receive $28.2 million in federal relief funds due to COVID-19 and its impact on cities across the nation. Kent received $14.1 million in June and will receive another $14.1 million next June.
“I want to make sure Kent people are hired for the program,” Fincher said.
Matheson said an interlocal agreement with the county will need to be approved by the council before the program starts.
“What a great idea,” Boyce said. “At the end of the day, we get more for our money. It’s kind of like outsourcing. They (King County) get the program set up and we provide additional funds.”
Council President Toni Troutner proposed spending $25,000 from the city Economic and Community Development federal relief funds to pay for five scholarships for a pre-apprentice program through ANEW that provides people with the training they need to work construction jobs. ANEW is based in Renton and has a training site in Kent.
Boyce proposed and the rest of the council supported raising the amount to $50,000 for scholarships.
Karen Dove, ANEW executive director, said in an email to the Kent Reporter that the program costs $5,000 per student and runs for 12 weeks, three days per week for a total of 280 hours. The cost covers the program and support services for the participant and retention for two years after training.
“We graduate 84% of our participants and place over 75% in apprenticeship or family wage careers with a starting wage over $22 per hour,” Dove said about the construction jobs.
The $2.8 million for Willis Street and Naden Avenue improvements and the $1 million for Veterans Drive landscaping were each part of Ralph’s proposed budget last month.
Larimer and Fincher had asked for more information about the projects, which Bieren, the Public Works director, provided.
The city years ago purchased property north of Willis Street near Naden Avenue for an aquatics center. But the council dropped that plan due to high costs and later partnered with the YMCA to open a facility on the East Hill. The city now is trying to sell the Naden property to a developer.
The city also received approval from the state Department of Transportation (which oversees Willis Street, aka State Route 516) to install a right-in, right-out access from Naden to Willis if the city installed a roundabout at Fourth and Willis Street.
Kent last year completed the $4.7 million roundabout, including $3 million from the state. The city plans to use $2.8 million of federal relief funds to move forward with the removal of the northbound 74th Avenue South lane to westbound Willis Street, Bieren said. Drivers wanting to go westbound will need to go east to the roundabout before going west.
“The movement (from 74th Avenue South westbound) interrupts the flow off the freeway,” Bieren said. “The roundabout has enough capacity, so it’s not a big deal.”
Drivers westbound on Willis will still be able to use the existing left-turn lane to get to 74th Avenue.
“I support it as continuation of the roundabout project,” Fincher said. “With the economic development benefits, I think it’s a good project.”
The Veterans Drive project will include installing irrigation lines to the planting area that already exists along the street, Bieren said. When the city installed landscaping in 2006, no water lines were available. Other types of plants and flowers can be planted with irrigation available.
Larimer said she had concerns about spending $1 million on landscaping.
Councilmember Zandria Michaud, however, said she likes the idea as a type of salute to veterans.
“The planter goes half a mile in the middle and on the sides of road,” Michaud said. “I think it’d be cool if we get red, white and blue foliage and flowers. It’s a large area, it’s expensive but how cool would that be to have a nice drive through there.”
The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget adjustment at its Nov. 2 Operations/Public Safety Committee meeting. The council will then take a final vote on the budget at its Nov. 16 regular meeting.
Earlier items proposed by Ralph and supported by the council majority include $1.2 million for a litter strike team to clean up the city and the restoration of five police officer positions at a cost of $693,350. Hirings were frozen by the city during COVID-19 cutbacks. The mayor also proposed spending $942,230 to fund a co-responder police officer and mental health worker program.
For details about the proposed budget, go to the city website at kentwa.gov/city-hall/finance.