Courtesy photo, City of Kent

Kent City Council approves mayor's budget adjustment for 2024

Dash cameras for police one of only new items in mainly status-quo budget

It was smooth sailing for the Kent City Council to unanimously adopt Mayor Dana Ralph’s mid-biennial budget adjustment to the 2023-2024 biennial budget.

The council approved the budget for 2024 at its Nov. 21 meeting with the same few changes Ralph proposed in September.

“This adopted budget adjustment carries the theme of maintaining status quo as we move forward into the second year of the current budget,” Ralph said in her weekly update to residents.

Higher tax revenue, than projected by the city finance department, helped make adoption easier, especially with no proposed budget cuts.

Sales tax revenue for 2024 is projected to be $31.39 million, up $1 million from projections when the council adopted the 2023-2024 biennial budget last year. Utility taxes (water, sewer, drainage) are expected to be $816,870 higher and taxes on natural gas and electric up $876,760. The B&O tax is projected to increase by $389,000.

The council had approved a budget last year to use about $3 million of the general fund balance for 2024. That number has been reduced to about $1 million.

“When we put the budget together in 2022, we were very conservative in how we did our budgeting,” City Finance Director Paula Painter said to the council. “That’s how we ended up in this situation to reduce reliance on fund balance.”

With the use of $1 million, the fund balance will sit at a projected $46.7 million at the end of 2024, twice as high as the fund balance in 2018.

The city is projected to have expenditures of $121.9 million in 2024 for the general fund. Revenues are expected to be $120.8 million, thus the use by city leaders of fund balance.

Police dash cameras

The council approved Ralph’s proposal to add dash cameras to police vehicles.

Ralph said the in-car cameras will increase the workload for the city’s legal department and city clerks’s office, so the budget adjustment includes the addition of a prosecutor and public disclosure analyst, which will start mid-year in 2024 when the cameras are expected to be ready to go.

The in-car camera program in 2024 will cost $250,000 for equipment, $96,850 for a prosecutor and $66,910 for a public disclosure analyst, according to city budget documents.

Red-light camera revenue will pay for the dash cameras. Red-light camera funds also pay for the body-worn cameras used by officers.

The red-light camera fund, which has a balance of $1.2 million, is expected to bring in $4.4 million in 2024, with about $3.9 million in expenditures, according to city documents.

Employees pay hike

The cost of salaries and benefits for city employees will go up in 2024, an increase to $76.7 million from $74.9 million projected prior to last year’s budget, according to city documents.

Painter said higher cost-of-living adjustments are the reasons for the increase. Most employees will receive a 4.5% increase in pay based on contract agreements.

“We have phenomenal employees at the city,” Council President Bill Boyce said prior to the budget adoption. “We want to make sure our employees are paid according to what the market is paying.”

The city has 755 employees budgeted for 2024, an increase of 10 from 2023.

The new positions include a public disclosure analyst; a city planner (one-year limited term); a human resources administrative assistant and a benefit analyst; a prosecuting attorney; a municipal court probation resources coordinator; a public works transportation signal technician, two maintenance workers and an utility site control manager; and a deputy chief of police.

Police Chief Rafael Padilla announced last summer the promotion of Assistant Chief Matt Stansfield to deputy chief, a position that had been vacant for about a dozen years. That position pays $348,780 per year.

Police levy coming?

City leaders haven’t adopted anything yet as far as sending a measure to voters in 2024 to hire more police officers, but there’s $150,000 in the budget to be paid to King County Elections. When the council asked about that money, Painter had the following answer.

“This increase is budgeted in anticipation if we do a public safety levy,” Painter said. “We will have to pay additional fees for that, so it’s earmarked this budget cycle.”

Ralph and council members have talked about getting the Legislature to adopt a measure in 2024 to allow cities access to local funding options to add police officers. A proposed bill last session that failed to gather much interest would have allowed cities to use a portion of the current sales tax to pay for officers.

Asking voters to approve an increase in property taxes could be another option.

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