Town Hall: Kent Council gets earful from residents

The idea for the city to install cameras to catch drivers who run red lights turned into a hot topic Tuesday night at a Kent City Council Town Hall meeting.

Members of the Kent City Council listen as West Hill resident Reynold Eicke asks a question Tuesday in a town hall meeting held at Kent Fire Station No. 75. About 20 citizens attended. Council members

Members of the Kent City Council listen as West Hill resident Reynold Eicke asks a question Tuesday in a town hall meeting held at Kent Fire Station No. 75. About 20 citizens attended. Council members

The idea for the city to install cameras to catch drivers who run red lights turned into a hot topic Tuesday night at a Kent City Council Town Hall meeting.

Nearly two dozen residents attended the two-hour meeting at Kent Fire Station No. 73 on the West Hill. The Council set up the meeting in an effort to give residents an informal setting to share their concerns about any topic in the city.

Resident Karen Bouton said she often sees drivers running red lights. Bouton asked council members whether they plan to use cameras to catch red-light runners similar to systems that the cities of Auburn, Renton and Federal Way are using. The cameras take photos of the vehicle’s license plate and driver. Tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Council members quickly lighted up with mixed reactions to proposal.

“I don’t want it to look like the city wants extra revenue, so we put out cameras to get more tickets,” said Councilwoman Jamie Danielson, who also had concerns that the cameras could cause drivers to change their habits at intersections by slamming on their brakes and creating more rear-end collisions.

Councilman Ron Harmon told the crowd he prefers increased patrols by traffic officers over the cameras.

“An officer can contact people about why they ran it rather than just getting a ticket in the mail,” Harmon said. “We need to try to change the habits of people. We need to put eyes on the ground with officers who enforce the law.”

Councilman Les Thomas responded that drivers run red lights throughout the city and cameras could help curtail such actions.

“It’s a question of saving lives,” Thomas said. “Every intersection in Kent would need an officer. We don’t have that many officers to be at every intersection.”

Renton and Federal Way installed the cameras this year, while Auburn started using cameras at several intersections in 2006.

“Word gets out that you don’t go through red lights in Auburn,” Thomas said.

Resident Ron Gibson suggested the city put up signs that cameras are present at the intersection, but not pay any money to actually install a camera system. “But people would think the cameras are there,” he added.

Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan joined the debate.

“If we do it, it should be about safety,” Strachan said. “If it’s for extra revenue, we need to be clear how the city will use it.”

City staff has researched the red-light cameras and discovered that private companies in Arizona receive most of the contracts with cities to run the system, the police chief noted.

“You either split revenues or pay a flat fee to cover their costs,” Strachan said. “The companies will charge thousands of dollars per approach at an intersection. Often, it produces only enough revenue to cover the costs.”

There is more work to be done on the potential for red-light cameras, Thomas said.

Other topics discussed at the meeting:

• Gambling – Shannon McClure, a representative of the Great American Casino in Kent, told the Council that 137 employees are worried about losing their jobs if the city annexes the Panther Lake area in 2009, because the city bans card rooms. McClure wants the Council to support a local option bill to the Legislature that the Recreational Gaming Association of Washington plans to sponsor next year. The bill would allow cities to zone where card rooms could go, rather than having an outright ban or allowing them anywhere in the city.

• Planning and development – Local housing developer Jason Cole asked the city to consider a change in planning codes. He wants the city to extend the length of time small developers are given to develop property after getting the initial city permits because of the current financial crisis and difficulty to obtain bank loans.

• Military Road widening – Several West Hill residents said Military Road needs to be widened because traffic backs way up during rush hour on the two-lane road between Kent-Des Moines Road and South 272nd Street, making it difficult to get in and out of streets and driveways. The widening project is included in the city’s 20-year transportation master plan, but isn’t slated to be done until at least 2011. Residents also said flooding remained a problem along the road because drainage ditches are filled with debris. They asked for the city’s help to clear those ditches.

• Fourth Avenue utilities – Two property owners from Fourth Avenue near the Kent Events Center said several of the 22 property owners along the street are facing financial obstacles because of the city’s requirement to move all utility wires underground. Larry Blanchard, city public works director, said at the meeting that the city would work with the property owners to see what type of financial options might be available to help with the project.

At the end of the meeting, Council President Debbie Raplee walked away pleased with the response.

“This is our first Town Hall and it was a great turnout with great questions,” Raplee told the audience. “We appreciate hearing from you so we know what is happening.”

A second Town Hall meeting runs 9-11 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Kent Station campus of Green River Community College.

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