City manager says council’s ‘dynamics’ hurt budget passage

Steven Bushong

At the start of Wednesday’s finance committee meeting, it looked as if Kent City Council was prepared to hand out approval and pass the $38.7 million budget.

But when a final vote was taken to either adopt or dismiss it overall, City Council voted no, 3-4 — a vote City Manager Dave Ruller said had a lot to do with the dynamics of the council that night. The budget itself, he said, was much like previous years’ budgets.

Councilmen Richard Hawksley and Garret Ferrara were not present. The two tend to disagree with Ward 5 Councilman Edward Bargerstock, who voted an overall no, Ruller said.

“It’s discouraging not to have the budget passed, but we’ll do whatever it takes to get it adjusted. We’ve got to have a budget to operate city services,” he said. “It’s only the first meeting, so we’re not so presumptuous as to believe a budget will fly through on first read.”

Council has until January to pass an official budget without having to implement an appropriations ordinance, or temporary budget.

Toward the meeting’s beginning, Ward 6 Councilwoman Beth Oswitch questioned the inclusion of “Officer Bill,” a school safety presentation, and three vacant firefighter positions in the public safety section, which had a 1.6 percent increase in funding.

Ruller explained that the vacant positions would eventually be filled and that, until that point, the funds allocated to those positions would be used to pay for overtime wages.

The budget was separated into eight different sections including transportation, health services and public safety. The council voted to pass each section. The first section to get a no vote, from Bargerstock, was Leisure Time Activities. The Community and Environment section received the most no votes, with two council members dissenting – Bargerstock and Ward 4 Councilman John Kuhar.

But two dissenting votes are not enough to fail a section when there are seven voters present. Four no votes, however, are enough to reject the budget overall and send it back to Ruller.

Kuhar said he voted no because he thinks the money is budgeted inappropriately, especially at a time when city finances are not perfect. The budget contained a deficit of nearly $2 million.

Ruller said that he, under the guidance of a Blue Ribbon Panel, had already trimmed $2 million from the budget and cutting anymore would be detrimental to city services.

It’s likely the budget won’t change much between now and Dec. 5, when the finance committee will officially revisit the budget for another vote.

“There will be another council meeting where the others show up, and there will be a 5-4 vote,” Kuhar said. “There won’t be much of a change.”

Ruller said it’s not unusual for it to take several committee meetings before a budget is passed.

“It’s all about choices, and those choices are hard choices,” he said. “It’s not like your choosing between wrong and right, you’re choosing between two rights.”

Contact public affairs reporter Steven Bushong at [email protected].