Here’s our recap of the special Kent City Council meeting held on Tuesday night, Sept. 25, 2023:
Mayor Ralph’s 2024 Mid-Biennium Budget Adjustment Message
At this special meeting, Mayor Dana Ralph spoke to council on changes made to the city’s 2024 budget. This biennial adjustment is an opportunity, she said, to renew and refine the budget based on current finance trends. She explained that, in order to reduce the impact of the nearly 10% inflation rate, all departments had agreed to maintain the status quo budget as much as possible. This proposed budget adjustment mostly upholds that agreement; she said nearly all categories either maintain or reduce expenditures. Rising insurance costs is one area that is an unavoidable increase, and one which many cities are currently facing. The total city budget is $443.85 million, with $121.89 million in the general fund.
Public Safety Finances
In an effort to enhance the safety of both police officers and the public, Kent Police will have in-car cameras installed. These cameras increase work-load and required resources, so a new prosecutor and public disclosure analyst will be hired. Both positions will be paid for by the city’s red light camera revenue. Red light revenue will also pay for an update to officer cell phones. In addition, the budget contains a proposal to purchase a fully functioning crime scene van, which will be paid for by legislative funding from 2021.
Kent has been facing historically high crime rates, and Mayor Ralph explained that staff are working with state legislators to increase the number of officers. She said that not only does Kent have one of the lowest rates of officers per capita in the state, but Washington state has the lowest number of officers per person in the nation. She knows the community has been feeling the impacts of rising crime and police staffing shortages, and hopes to see it changing in the near future.
Community court is Kent’s answer to addressing the issues that lead to crime, including mental health and addiction. The court holds participants accountable while offering resources to help establish stability. Community court is fully funded between state grants, ARPA funds, and opioid settlement money. A change to the budget includes switching a resource coordinator position from part time to full time.
Parks & Recreation Security Improvements
Safety and security at city parks and facilities has been a big issue, and the biennial budget has a few changes to address this. Theft and vandalism has been rampant at city facilities, so new access control upgrades are underway at the senior center, Kent Commons, the golf course, and the driving range. This expands the budget by $200,000, but provides more complete security to city assets, and includes upgrades to security and alarms at other facilities, including the Centennial Center, city shops, municipal court, and the corrections center.
As a one-time pilot program, the Parks Department is contracting with a security firm to provide support to high-use park locations as well as at crowded events. The aim is to provide a safer, more accessible and positive use of parks by the public.
The budget also includes providing gap funding for two positions that are paid for by levy. One levy that covers the positions is expiring and another starting that will replace it, but with a short gap between them. The budget will cover that gap to maintain staffing in the interim.
Public Works & IT
Due to both increased growth in the number of traffic signals, and increased wire theft & vandalism, there has been a significant strain on maintenance & repair resources. The budget includes the addition of one full time traffic signal technician.
The city will hire two new workers to cover maintenance of landscaping in roadside right-of-ways. There is also additional cost for training replacements for two workers who are retiring soon.
As for the IT department, a few hundred thousand is being allocated to update outdated computing and internet systems, as well as cover rising costs of software subscriptions.