The creation of a litter strike team for $1.2 million to clean up the streets of Kent is just one of many proposals by Mayor Dana Ralph in her 2022 city budget adjustment.
Ralph also wants to restore five police officer positions (frozen in 2020 due to COVID-19 budget cutbacks) for $693,350; fund a co-responder police officer and mental health worker program for $942,230; and spend $715,000 on a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system and a gym divider curtain for the aging Kent Commons recreation center.
The litter strike team will include hiring two maintenance workers and contracted services for the next three years and be paid for with $1 million from the city’s general fund balance and $250,000 from the drainage fund because trash is often found in stormwater catch basins across town.
“I know all of you have heard from our residents and have seen driving around the city that litter continues to be an increasing concern,” Ralph said during her Sept. 28 presentation to the Kent City Council. “This is my attempt to ask you to fund those positions so we can get a handle on that litter.”
The city has added several police officers per year to the staff in an effort to get numbers higher, but those hires were frozen in 2020 due to impacts to the city budget by COVID-19. Chief Rafael Padilla has told the council he would like to get up to about 190 officers. The increase next year would boost the number of police officers to 165.
Councilmember Satwinder Kaur asked about the officer shortage and whether the department could fill new positions. Ralph said the department is down about 13 officers, but is interviewing to fill about half of those vacancies and expects to be able to fill the extra positions in 2022.
The new HVAC at Kent Commons will include a new chiller, boiler and replacement of the four racquetball court units. The new curtain wall will separate the gym into two rooms used for rentals and recreational activities.
“Both items are critical to the operations of the Commons and add long-term value,” Ralph said.
Of the total $420 million budget, $128 million is allocated to the general fund, which covers daily operations. That’s a $17.76 million jump to the general fund from the adopted 2021-2022 budget.
Ralph said much of the increase in expenditures are offset by revenue adjustments leaving a gap of $1.7 million in which a fund balance will be used for one-time expenditures. That fund balance has about $43 million, monies that the council has nearly doubled over the last four years as it builds the account to guard against unanticipated events that would adversely affect the city’s financial condition.
A total of $12.3 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding covers most of the increase in spending, with much of that for limited positions or programs as opposed to an ongoing expense. Sales tax revenues are expected to increase in 2022 by $1.2 million and utility taxes by $1.7 million.
Federal relief funds
The city will receive $28.2 million in federal relief funds due to COVID-19 and the impact on cities across the nation. Kent received $14.1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act in June and will receive another $14.1 million next June.
Ralph proposed a total of $9 million to go to Economic and Community Development Department programs, including $2.7 million to a FlexFund to help small businesses and $2.8 million to improvements at Willis Street and Naden Avenue that will allow access to the city-owned property it is trying to sell to a developer.
The Human Services Department would get $1.75 million for a building resiliency program, with details to be determined, but the funding would go to nonprofit organizations in the community, said Derek Matheson, city chief administrative officer.
Under Ralph’s proposal, the Public Works Department would get $2.2 million to replace aging vehicles, mainly trucks used by the department.
Another $1 million would go to the Parks Department to create a new park in the Panther Lake area, which was annexed by the city in 2010.
The mayor also proposed $1 million for improvements at the intersection of Military Road South and Veterans Drive on the West Hill that would welcome people to the city and recognize veterans.
The council plans to have budget workshops on Oct. 5 and Oct. 19 before a potential vote on its adoption at the Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting on Nov. 2 and then at the Nov. 16 council meeting.
For details about the proposed budget, go the city website at kentwa.gov/city-hall/finance.