If the words of six Kent City Council candidates are an accurate indication, voters might be voting on higher taxes next year to pay for more police officers.
The six candidates for three council positions agreed during a Sept. 7 Kent Chamber of Commerce forum that more Kent Police officers are needed to help curtail crime. They also agreed a tax measure should be referred to voters to see if they want to pay for those officers, with a property tax hike one potential option.
”We might have to raise property taxes for more police,” said John Boyd, who is running against Kelly Wiggans-Crawford for Position No. 3 to replace Les Thomas,. “A lot of people complain about crime, but do you want to complain or pay? Let’s send it out to a vote about whether to increase property taxes.”
Wiggans-Crawford would like to consider other tax increases.
“I’d like to spread the cost to all community members not just the property owners,” Wiggans-Crawford said. “We need to look at different options that spread across all residents of Kent not just those who own property. … But I’m not opposed to higher taxes for more police.”
The City Council at its Aug. 4 retreat discussed a property tax measure as well as lobbying the Legislature to amend existing state law to allow city councils to impose a local sales tax to fund public safety.
The police department is fully staffed for what its budget allows with 166 officers. Police Chief Rafael Padilla, however, has said numerous times a city with Kent’s population of more than 130,000 should have 195 officers.
Incumbent Marli Larimer, who is being challenged by Jessie Ramsey for Position No. 1, said the council will look this fall at options for paying for more police officers as 2024 budget talks begin.
“I’d love to have the budget of Bellevue to get more officers on the streets,” Larimer said. “It’s an ongoing challenge and one of our biggest challenges.”
Ramsey said he would look at possibly cutting other parts of the city’s general fund budget to pay for more police.
“I don’t think that raising property taxes should be the first option,” Ramsey said. “Think about it, when we look at crime, it’s not going anywhere. We have an immediate need to address the crime rate. We need to do something immediately. Can we take 1% here or 2% to address what’s going on and then down the road look at presenting taxes to the people. And remember, they can always say no. We need to address this need to do something immediately.”
Larimer responded to Ramsey’s comment that there’s not much room for budget cuts that would come from other departments.
“The budget is tight,” Larimer said. “It takes a year to train officers, so we have time to do something more permanent.”
Incumbent Zandria Michaud, who is being challenged by Darryl Jones for Position No. 7, said the current seven-member council continues to be very supportive of the police department and hiring more officers.
“Half of our budget is spent on public safety,” Michaud said. “With the budget cycle coming up, we will look at other options for more police officers.”
Michaud would like to see the Legislature help fund local police departments.
“There was an option (last session) for the state to help us fund police and they did not even consider it,” she said. “We are looking at all avenues.”
The proposed bill last session would have allowed cities to use a portion of the current sales tax to pay for more officers.
Jones would like to look at the current general fund budget to find more money for police before asking voters to approve a tax increase.
“I support hiring more officers, and they are fully staffed based on funding,” Jones said. “I’d look at where cuts can be made in the existing budget. If there are no cuts or minimal cuts, then go to the people to see if they’re willing to pay more taxes for additional officers. They can either choose to pay additional tax if they want or not, and complain as the (crime) situation deteriorates.”
Kent voters rejected in April 2018 by 57% to 43% a hike in utility taxes to 8% from 6% to pay for more officers. That would have brought in about $4.5 million a year to hire 23 more officers. The city levies a fee on electric, natural gas, cable and phone bills.
Since that rejection, Mayor Dana Ralph and the council have considered other tax measures to send to voters to pay for more police but has yet to take that step.
The three city council positions are on the Nov. 7 general election ballot Council President Bill Boyce is running unopposed. King County Elections will mail ballots Oct. 18 for the general election.