Kent City Council: Tell us where to cut budget

Kent City Council members plan to attend a Lake Meridian neighborhood meeting and other neighborhood meetings throughout town this spring to survey residents on which city services are the most important to them. Shown above is Lake Meridian.

Kent City Council members plan to attend a Lake Meridian neighborhood meeting and other neighborhood meetings throughout town this spring to survey residents on which city services are the most important to them. Shown above is Lake Meridian.

If the city’s budget shortfalls continue, Kent may have to start cutting its services or programs.

That’s the reason City Council members are planning to be present at neighborhood meetings throughout town. They want to personally survey residents on what city programs and services they value the most.

“We’re trying to assess our priorities,” Councilman Tim Clark said at a Council budget workshop Tuesday at City Hall. “We don’t know yet how short of money we are until the state (Legislature) makes decisions.

Those decisions include whether the Legislature will continue to protect the streamlined sales tax mitigation funds it currently pays to Kent. The state paid the city about $965,000 in its most recent quarterly payment.

At least a couple of the seven Council members will attend as many as a dozen or so Neighborhood Council meetings over the next couple of months to distribute surveys on what city services and programs are the most important to residents. The Council plans to have a specific schedule later this month of when it will attend neighborhood meetings.

About 16 neighborhoods in Kent are part of the city’s Neighborhood Program. The Neighborhood Councils are nonprofit groups with an elected board that meet at least four times per year, develop an annual budget, document activities and adopt by-laws and procedures.

The city of Kent continues to be challenged by budgetary shortfalls, although city officials so far have avoided any layoffs or major program cuts.

The city already has slashed $2.1 million from its general fund through hiring freezes, delays in filling positions, military leave, transfers to non-general fund positions and pending separations. City officials saved another $370,000 through operating budget cuts. About 20 open positions with the city will remain unfilled indefinitely.

Contributing to the city’s bottom line, all four city unions as well as a group of non-represented employees voted earlier this year to take pay cuts for the rest of 2009 to save the city about $1.3 million and avoid layoffs.

But all of those cost-cutting measures may not be enough if the city’s sales-tax revenue continues to drop, or the state makes cuts that impact Kent.

“They elected us to make decisions, but we want citizens to help us out,” Albertson said, of getting residents’ input for the city’s highest-priority programs.

Residents who attend upcoming Neighborhood Council meetings will be asked to rank the Council’s six strategic goals for 2009.

Those goals are:

Improve transportation connectivity; enhance our sense of community; support a dynamic and sustainable economy; become a unique urban center; implement conservation and efficiency for environmental sustainability; and utilize technology to advance the community.

“It’s a broad scale but it will give us a better sense of what’s important to citizens,” Council President Debbie Raplee said at the workshop.

The survey will include a pie-chart list of city departments and will ask residents to outline whether the city should fund more, less or the same amount in those departments.

The survey also will have several open-ended questions regarding what other city programs residents value.

Council members say they hope the survey will give them guidance, if they have to trim the budget.

“If we are considering cuts, we want to know what you value,” Clark said.

For a list of Neighborhood Councils, go to www.ci.kent.wa.us/neighborhoods. Or call the city Neighborhood Program at 253-856-5708.


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