Kent Mayor Dana Ralph delivers her State of the City address Thursday evening, March 21 at the Kent-Meridian Performing Arts Center. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph delivers her State of the City address Thursday evening, March 21 at the Kent-Meridian Performing Arts Center. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent mayor plans to keep fighting for sales tax to hire more police

State of the City address also touches on new restaurants, roundabouts and walking paths

With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Kent Mayor Dana Ralph’s State of the City address from the Kent-Meridian High School Performing Arts Center, she might have wanted to play the song, “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty.

Ralph, in her seventh year as mayor, led off her speech the evening of March 21 with a focus on public safety. She emphasized the efforts by herself and other city leaders to get legislators in Olympia this past session to approve a bill that would allow county and city councils to adopt a sales tax to pay for more police officers without going to voters.

Despite the efforts, the proposed House and Senate bills failed to get out of committee. Ralph said a 3 cents sales tax on each $10 purchase would raise about $12 million per year for the city and allow it to hire 30 to 35 more officers.

Although frustrated at the failure of the measure, Ralph said she’s ready to return to battle.

“We are not backing down and not giving up,” Ralph said. “We will return to Olympia next year to make the case to secure more funding, not only for Kent, but for every community. Our residents deserve that.”

Not exactly the words of the Petty song, but close enough. Besides, Petty released “I Won’t Back Down,” in 1989, the same year Ralph graduated from Kent-Meridian.

Ralph said over the past year she’s met hundreds of people and when they talk about an urgent need for the city it’s to improve public safety. She agreed with them.

“I will continue to fight everyday for your family and mine,” she said.

Despite a city budget that limits the police department to 166 officers in a city of about 140,000, Ralph said the force continues to do incredible work. She said that included busting a chop shop with stolen vehicles, weapons and drugs; helping to catch and solve home invasion robberies; and helping to clean up crime at the Phoenix Court Apartments, 23913 111th Place SE, which had multiple shootings and other crimes.

“We’ve had no shootings there the last six months,” Ralph said.

The mayor said the city had a public safety win in Olympia, as the Legislature agreed to change the law this session to allow police pursuits in most incidents. Previous laws had limited when police could pursue law violators, including those who stole vehicles. Now it’s pretty much up to officers and supervisors when to chase.

“It will allow pursuit of most criminals when they flee,” Ralph said. “It no longer will be OK to simply drive away from law enforcement.”

Ralph hopes she can accomplish a similar victory in 2025 with sales taxes to pay for more officers.

“My hope is you are reassured we are doing everything we can and will keep standing up for our community,” Ralph said.

A few other speech highlights:

New restaurants

Ralph shared her excitement about two new restaurants coming soon to town, one she named coming to Kent Station and one she didn’t name coming to the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex.

Dough Zone Dumpling House will be coming to the Kent Station shopping center. The small restaurant chain, which started in 2014 in Bellevue, aims to bring the heartwarming flavors of traditional Chinese comfort food to a modern setting, according to its website.

Dough Zone has 10 locations in the Seattle area, including Renton, and several restaurants in Oregon, California and Texas.

As far as Kent Station, the shopping center continues to do well and had its highest occupancy rate last year since it opened 18 years ago, Ralph said. She said the AMC theatre had its best year in 2023 since opening in 2005.

The vacant restaurant site at the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex along West Meeker Street will have a new tenant. The location has been closed since Half Lion Public House went out of business in October 2023. Half Lion was the fourth restaurant to close at the location since 2010.

“Stay tuned, we will have an announcement pretty soon about a new restaurant at Riverbend,” Ralph said. “That’s all I know.”

Reith Road roundabouts

Ralph said two roundabouts with bike lanes will be installed later this year along Reith Road. The project will change existing stop sign controlled intersections of Reith Road at South 253rd Street and Lake Fenwick Road to single-lane compact roundabouts.

“It’s a large-scale project,” Ralph said. “It’s been wanted by residents and we are excited to deliver. Eventually, improvements will be made all the way to Military Road.”

The roundabouts will improve traffic flow for people walking, biking and driving, according to city documents. In between the roundabouts, the outside travel lanes will be converted to separated one-way bike lanes. People who walk will benefit from a shorter crossing and flashing beacons when a button is pressed.

The city engineer estimates the project cost at $4 million to $4.5 million, according to city documents. Bids are being accepted through March 26. Construction is expected to start this summer.

132nd Avenue upgrade

Ralph said 132nd Avenue SE will be repaved and widened with a curb to separate walking paths between SE 228th Street and SE 240th Street. A pedestrian crossing will be installed at SE 234th Street.

“Folks will be able to walk from Kent Kangley Road to Sunrise Elementary,” Ralph said.

The walking path will be installed on the west side of the street.

Residents have asked city officials for improvements after a vehicle struck and killed 12-year-old Gabriel Coury as he rode a scooter on July 11, 2023 near SE 231st Way; and Simran Gaut, 17, was killed by a vehicle Jan. 8, 2023 while crossing in the 23300 block of 132nd Avenue SE, just south of the collision with Gabriel.

City Public Works staff estimated the project cost at about $400,000 with work expected to be completed this summer.

Dredging Mill Creek

Ralph said the city just found out it has received federal government approval to move forward with a project to remove sediment from Mill Creek.

She said there is about 5 feet of sediment in the creek between East Smith Street and Central Avenue North to be removed.

Removing sediment will reduce flooding that often occurs in the area and improve fish habitat. The city has not released a cost for the project but staff can now prepare to send it out to bid.

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Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Members of the Kent-Meridian High School choir sing the national anthem prior to the State of the City address by Mayor Dana Ralph. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Members of the Kent-Meridian High School choir sing the national anthem prior to the State of the City address by Mayor Dana Ralph. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

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