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Kent Mayor Proposes Layoffs, New Taxes In City Budget

Deborah Wang

Another Western Washington city is struggling to balance its books. On Tuesday, the mayor of Kent presented her budget plan for the next two years. She is proposing layoffs and controversial new taxes to bridge a $2 million shortfall.


Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke calls her budget "as ugly as the economic times we face."

Cooke: "How to describe how much our revenues are hurting? I would say we are just scraping by."

Cooke says the city has seen a 30 percent drop in sales tax since the financial crisis hit. The real estate market hasn't yet recovered. And over the years, she says, the city has taken on a lot of debt for things like a new arena, which opened in 2009. And that is putting a strain on the city's finances.

Cooke: "We have not had enough to cover that debt adequately, so it's eaten into our general operations."

So in her budget proposal, the mayor 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 6 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.

Higgins: "Certainly we've cut a lot in the past four years and I can't believe we still haven't hit bottom."

Higgins says there will be 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.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

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