Proposed Kent city budget outlines 17 new hires; Council president opposes plan

Marvin Eckfeldt likes that the proposed 2011 Kent city budget includes 11 new hires for the Panther Lake area, whose 24,000 residents annexed to the city in July. “That was part of the promise,” said Eckfeldt, who co-chaired the campaign last year for Panther Lake voters to approve annexing to Kent from unincorporated King County. “That was part of the annexation platform that we would get more community

Marvin Eckfeldt likes that the proposed 2011 Kent city budget includes 11 new hires for the Panther Lake area, whose 24,000 residents annexed to the city in July.

“That was part of the promise,” said Eckfeldt, who co-chaired the campaign last year for Panther Lake voters to approve annexing to Kent from unincorporated King County. “That was part of the annexation platform that we would get more community services and more law enforcement. We’ve seen that already.”

The Kent City Council will vote to adopt the 2011 budget at its regular meeting 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at City Hall. The Council will consider a $62.2 million general fund, a $12.8 million annexation area budget and a $16.8 million capital fund.

The proposed budget includes 17 new hires. The 11 positions in the Panther Lake area include two police officers, a police sergeant, two police-records specialists and a parks-maintenance worker.

Kent’s cuts of $7 million last spring put the city budget in much better shape than King County and surrounding cities such as Seattle, Bellevue and Tukwila, all of which are facing or have made budget cuts for 2011. Kent also has saved roughly $4 million in costs next year because it no longer fully funds the Kent Fire Department, now part of a regional fire authority with King County Fire District 37 and Covington.

The state also helps the city pay for annexation costs with state annexation funds returned to the city through a sales tax rebate on purchases in Kent. That’s worth about $4 million per year to the city.

“Our city budget is one that did not have to take significant hits,” said Eckfeldt, a 23-year Panther Lake resident.

Despite the extra funds for Kent, the Council’s Operations Committee voted just 2-1 to approve the proposed budget Tuesday and forward it to the full seven-member Council for approval.

Council President Jamie Perry voted against the proposed budget at the committee meeting. Council members Les Thomas and Debbie Raplee approved the spending plan. Perry plans to vote against the budget again Dec. 14, but expects the majority of the Council to approve it.

“I am concerned we are not building up a bigger reserve fund,” Perry said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We are hiring additional folks and allocating money to projects. My thought is, let’s plan for the future and not just spend because we have money to spend. I think we should hold on for six months to see if the reserves are up and we have money to pay for projects. The future is still a little uncertain.”

The proposed budget includes $2 million for street projects, including street overlays and $500,000 to help establish a railroad quiet zone downtown.

City transportation officials are studying construction improvements at downtown railroad crossings so train engineers would no longer have to sound their horns at intersections.

The project entails installing barriers to further separate vehicles and pedestrians from the tracks – eliminate the necessity for train engines to blast their sirens. Crews also could install wayside horns – an automated warning system that involves a pole-mounted device that gives an audible warning to drivers and pedestrians. The sound of this system reportedly does not carry as far into surrounding neighborhoods as the train sirens.

“The railroad quiet zone is a new project and we don’t really know what the total cost will be,” Perry said.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke didn’t include funds for a railroad quiet zone or as much money for street projects in her proposed budget to the Council in October.

“But I was very pleased with the Council’s basic acceptance of the budget I presented,” Cooke said in a phone interview Wednesday about changes made by the Council to the budget over the last couple of months after two public hearings and several workshops.

Cooke said street projects can be delayed in 2011 if funds fall short. She added her main concerns are whether the 2011 Legislature reduces the annexation fund or streamlined sales-tax mitigation fund when it makes cuts to the state budget. The city receives nearly $5 million per year from the streamlined sales-tax fund and $4 million per year to help offset annexations costs.

“If we get hit and lose the annexation or streamlined sales-tax funds, we would have to go back to the drawing board with the budget and whole programs could be eliminated,” Cooke said.

City officials project a fund balance of $5.7 million at the end of 2011. But that’s money city officials want to keep in reserve rather than spend.

The loss of state funds also could impact the 17 new hires in 2011. State officials have looked at cutting both funds the last couple of years, but have not made the cuts.

Eckfeldt hopes the annexation funds remain so Panther Lake residents can continue to enjoy the increased police coverage and other city services.

“They would not be able to do that without the annexation money,” Eckfeldt said. “That’s been a plus for the city to give them a buffer so they do not have to cut back.”

City 2011 hiring plan

Non-Annexation (6 positions)

• Golf maintenance worker – Parks

• 2 police officers

• 2 maintenance workers – Public Works

• Conservation coordinator – Public Works

Annexation (11 positions)

• Human resources analyst – Employee Services

• Financial analyst – Finance

• Senior systems analyst – Information Technology

• 2 police officers

• Police sergeant

• Corrections officer –

• 2 police records specialists

• Maintenance worker – Parks

• Human services coordinator – Parks

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