With election day three weeks away, the city of Kent hosted a public forum and tours of its Safety Administration Building Tuesday night to show and explain the push behind Issue 4, a proposed income tax hike to fund a new police facility.
If passed by voters on Nov. 5, the levy will increase Kent's earned income tax rate from 2 to 2.25 percent, and will generate an estimated $1.2 million annually for the city to pay off bond payments for a new safety building. The estimated cost of the new facility, planned to go between Day and Summit streets, is about $18 million, with $5 million budgeted to acquire the land and $13 million for construction.
The tax will not affect retirees or seniors living on fixed income.
Speaking to about 20 people, Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said the city has worked against losses of city funding through economic downturn and state cuts to manage city funds and avoid asking voters for more money, but the numerous structural and efficiency issues with the current safety building need to be addressed.
"Unfortunately, 89 years in this building is starting to take this discussion out of our hands," Ruller said. "We really are at the end of its life and we need to do something."
In addition to continually failing to meet state codes for its jail conditions, the police department is laden with structural, layout and efficiency issues.
Tours through the facility noted a 2010 roof cave-in, water stains from leaks, mold, cracking and bowing walls, lack of handicap accessibility and the lack of storage space for records, evidence and prisoners, among others.
"We've been plugging holes. With our needs, it just doesn't make any sense and is unorganized," Kent Police Chief Michelle Lee said.
The proposed income tax increase is designed to expire once payments on the new facility are complete, which Ruller estimated would last for about 25 years. If the building is paid off sooner, the tax will expire sooner as well, he said.
Responding to a question about what happens if the income tax fails, Ruller said the city will proceed with the building and have to consider areas to cut from to make up for the $1.2 million in annual bond payments.
"Just because the vote doesn't go our way doesn't mean the problem goes away," he said.
Ruller said no cuts are on the table yet, but said the city will have to look at possible services to cut and potentially city staff, noting that payroll is Kent's greatest expense.
Once the new police department is constructed, which is estimated to be complete in late 2015 or early 2016, the city will raze the old department.
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