Ralph wants to spend $1.72 million over the next two years to purchase 24 vehicles (12 each year) at a cost of about $72,000 each in order to continue the city’s car-per-officer, take-home program. Kent started that program in 2018 with the purchase of 14 new vehicles. Police staff said at that time that it will save money in the long run because of lower maintenance and operation costs with just one officer using the vehicle. It’s also a recruiting tool for police departments as the city covers all vehicle costs for officers, no matter how far their commute. The vehicles cannot be used for personal trips.
“This program greatly improves efficiency and is a significant cost savings for the city,” Ralph said in her prerecorded budget message Sept. 29 to the Kent City Council.
Ralph initiated the body-worn camera program in 2019 with the purchase of cameras for 105 officers at a cost of about $320,000 per year. Her proposal includes spending $53,380 in 2021 and $105,260 in 2022 to add 40 more cameras.
“Body-worn cameras directly increase the transparency and accountability of our police department and have been a tremendously helpful tool,” Ralph said.
Money for the new vehicles and body-worn cameras will come from the city’s red-light camera fund, started in 2019 to pay for the body-worn camera program. That fund has collected $1.5 million in revenue through August and spent about $1 million, leaving a fund balance of about $500,000, according to an email from City Finance Director Paula Painter. She said the fund is expected to generate $1.98 million in each of the next two years.
For the most part, Ralph has proposed a status-quo budget. Earlier this year to counter an anticipated $15.7 million revenue loss due to COVID-19, city leaders cut 11 full-time employees, used $5 million of general fund reserves, reduced the capital budget transfer fund from the general fund by $3.2 million, eliminated the summer parks recreation program, and used $1 million from the city’s Health and Wellness Fund.
That set up Mayor Ralph to avoid proposing any further cuts. The general fund balance is estimated to end the year at about $36 million.
Ralph has proposed a total budget for 2021 and 2022 of $687.8 million (includes street and park capital projects, plus water, sewer and drainage funds, etc.) and a $217.5 million general fund. The proposed general fund of $106.7 million in 2021 is about $2.6 million less than the adjusted 2020 budget due to the cuts made earlier this year.
While sales tax revenue is predicted to drop by about $1.5 million in 2021 compared to 2020, the city’s B&O tax revenue is expected to increase by about $2.1 million due to a recent change that also taxes outdoor warehouse activities starting next year. Property taxes are expected to increase by about $1.2 million next year, but licenses and permit fees will drop by an estimated $703,000.
The mayor proposed adding one new position, a equity manager to help the city focus on equity in its projects, programs and service delivery. That will cost about $243,790 in 2021 and $218,420 in 2022. The expenses include salaries and benefits, consultant services ($50,000 in 2021) and supplies ($25,000).
“The budget also includes funding to engage a consultant to help create an equity and social justice strategic plan for the city,” Ralph said. “We are currently working on the development of a job description and it is our intent to launch the recruitment before the budget is adopted.”
Ralph also wants to increase spending by about $16 million to support programs for the city’s vulnerable populations, including youth and seniors. That money will go into a variety of city programs and budgets with details to be worked out by the mayor and council.
Other proposals include $1.5 million for the cleanup of homeless encampments, trail restoration and improved access to Mill Creek Canyon; and $1 million in additional funding to complete renovations to the back two softball fields at Kent Memorial Park. Revenue from the expanded B&O tax will help pay for those park projects.
The council has about four workshops scheduled in October to further discuss the budget proposal with potential adoption at its Nov. 17 meeting.