Kent City Council candidates debate property tax reduction

Three challengers took on Kent City Council incumbents during a candidates debate Wednesday at the ShoWare Center presented by the Kent Chamber of Commerce.

Kent City Councilwoman Debbie Ranniger responds to a question as challenger Bailey Stober listens at the Kent Chamber of Commerce candidate debates Oct. 5 at the ShoWare Center.

Kent City Councilwoman Debbie Ranniger responds to a question as challenger Bailey Stober listens at the Kent Chamber of Commerce candidate debates Oct. 5 at the ShoWare Center.

Three challengers took on Kent City Council incumbents during a candidates debate Wednesday at the ShoWare Center presented by the Kent Chamber of Commerce.

Voters will decide on the Nov. 8 general election ballot whether they want a new look to the seven-member council by picking challengers Bill Boyce, Bailey Stober or Nancy Skorupa. Or if they decide to reelect veteran members Debbie Raplee, Debbie Ranniger and Les Thomas, who are each completing their second, four-year terms.

Newcomers Dana Ralph and Michael Sealfon are competing in the fourth council race to replace Ron Harmon, who decided not to run for a third term.

King County Elections will mail out ballots Oct. 19.

The most hotly contested issue at the debate centered on whether the city should continue to levy $4.9 million annually in property tax revenue that now goes to the general fund after previously being used to fund the Kent Fire Department. The fire department now is primarily funded through the Kent Regional Fire Authority, approved by voters in 2010 to fund the department independently through a property tax and fire benefit charge.

The Regional Fire Authority issue has been a focal point for chamber officials, who have argued the city should not spend the $4.9 million as it did in 2011 and reduce property taxes by 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

“This money is not ours to take, it belongs in your pocket,” said Stober, a retail store loss prevention manager who is challenging Ranniger. “You’re the hard working people who gave it to us. You gave it to us in trust that we would do the right thing. The City Council did not do the right thing.”

Ranniger, the executive director of resource development at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, said if the city reduced property taxes by $4 million it would mean major cuts to the city budget.

“We would be looking at cutting the critical services that everybody tells us we want and need,” Ranniger said. “A $4 million cut would be looking at cuts to public safety, cuts to parks and recreation, cuts in every aspect of city government. I don’t think you can causally look at change like that without looking at what the impact to services will be. I don’t think we’ve heard from the chamber what you are willing to cut.”

Boyce, a Boeing human resource analyst who has served 17 years on the Kent School Board, said the money should go to the taxpayers and he would help find places to cut the city budget. Boyce is challenging Raplee and received 35 percent of the primary vote compared to 27 percent for Raplee.

“The bottom line is the money is not ours,” Boyce said. “The money belongs to the taxpayers. I will definitely support giving the money back.”

Raplee, a Boeing staff analyst, said that she has asked Thomas to take a look at what the 2012 budget would look like with a $4.9 million reduction and present it to the council before it votes in December on the 2012 budget.

“Maybe it’s a compromise and it’s not a $4.9 million maybe it’s (a cut of) 2 percent but we won’t know until we really take a look,” Raplee said.

Thomas, a retired gemologist, proposed in June to the council that it reduce the 2012 property tax rate because of the formation of the Regional Fire Authority. The motion failed on a 4-2 vote. Thomas and Harmon voted for the proposal. Raplee, Ranniger, Jamie Perry and Elizabeth Albertson voted against it. Councilman Dennis Higgins was not at the meeting.

“We can’t give the money back folks, it’s been spent,” Thomas said. “But we can stop from taking it again for the next five years.”

Skorupa, owner of Renaissance Yarns in Kent, is challenging Thomas. She also wants the city stop spending the $4.9 million.

“Budget cuts are definitely going to have to happen,” said Skorupa who received 29 percent of the primary vote compared to 49 percent for Thomas. “The $4.9 million is gone, but in the future we should be giving this money back. A year later, I’m actually quite surprised that we’re still having this discussion.”

Ralph, who has run a medical billing service in Kent for 16 years, said she believes the money should go back to taxpayers. Sealfon, a retired U.S. Army colonel and a Vietnam veteran, had to leave the debate for a prior commitment and did not address the issue. Ralph received 42 percent of the primary vote compared to 34 percent for Sealfon.

The council has seven members who are elected to four-year terms and paid $13,752 per year for their part-time positions. The terms of council members Perry, Higgins and Albertson expire at the end of 2013.

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