The Mayor of Kent, Washington is proposing another round of layoffs and new taxes to bridge a $2 million budget shortfall. Mayor Suzette Cooke presented her 2013-2014 budget to the City Council Tuesday. In her opening speech, Mayor Cooke called her budget “as ugly as the economic times we face.”
Cooke says the city has seen a 30 percent drop in sales tax since the financial crisis hit. The city's real estate market hasn’t yet recovered. And the city' s public debt burden is high, in large part due to the city's new arena. The $84.5 million ShoWare Center opened its doors in January 2009, just in time for the recession. "How to describe how much our revenues are hurting? I would say we are just scraping by," Mayor Cooke said in an interview.
In her budget proposal, Mayor Cooke is calling for the elimination of 20 city positions, including eight layoffs. Two vacant police positions would remain unfilled. The city has already laid off 82 people since the beginning of the financial crisis. In addition, the mayor is proposing a new business and occupancy, or B & O tax that would bring in close to $7 million a year. She is also calling for a six percent tax on cable TV bills.
Mayor Cooke says the city needs the new revenue to avoid what she calls “unacceptable” budget cuts. City Council President Dennis Higgins says the size of the current budget shortfall has taken council members by surprise. “Certainly we’ve cut a lot in the past four years and I can’t believe we still haven’t hit bottom,” he said. Higgins says he expects significant push back to the mayor’s proposed new B & O tax. The City Council will begin holding hearings on the proposed budget next week, and is scheduled to enact a new budget by the end of the year.