Ward 1 candidates strive for balanced Kent city budget

Leslie Arntz

Achieving a balanced city budget is a goal for both candidates for Kent Ward 1 councilman.

As Republican incumbent Ward 1 Councilman Garret Ferrara seeks his third four-year term, he will once again face Democratic challenger Lloyd Atkinson for the seat. Atkinson upset the Democratic incumbent in 1999’s primary, but lost to Ferrara in the general election.

Both candidates are concerned with many of the same issues but have different approaches to solving the city’s problems. A budget deficit affects all other areas of service the city can provide and is a priority.

According to City Manager Dave Ruller’s recommended 2007 budget, Kent has a $2 million deficit. The city expects $33.8 million in revenue — $3.9 million less than actual revenue in 2005.

While taxes and utilities charges have remained rather stable, the amount of federal, state and local aid has dropped $1.2 million.

But the biggest drop — $3.4 million — is in the fourth category: interest earnings, fines and forfeitures, permits, licenses, inspections and all other revenue.

Life-long Kent resident Atkinson said the best way to take care of the city’s economic problems is living within the budget.

“We’ve gotten very extravagant and top-heavy in places we don’t need to be.”

He suggests there are a number of non-productive areas, including duplicate positions, that could be consolidated into one office.

“We’ve taxed to the max,” he said. “We need to learn to live within our budget. You don’t spend more than you have available.”

Ferrara sees economic growth as a long-term solution.

“The city needs money,” he said. “You can’t tax your way out of a deficit. Council needs to speak with a unified voice: We are pro-business and pro-growth.”

Capitalizing on industries already in the area is the place to start. There are spin-off businesses from projects and pursuits at the university, Ferrara said.

“The city can go in the right direction alone, but if we go hand in hand with the university, then our success is almost guaranteed,” Ferrara said.

Atkinson views the university as a great asset, too. However, he said it should be dealt with the same business sense as any other company.

“Be good neighbors, but don’t tear down the fence,” he said. “Focus on the city taking care of city business. Secondary relationships are with industry and cooperation with the university and industry. We need that.”

The role of council in encouraging existing and potential businesses is very important. But both candidates said council needs to look at the big picture, instead of the little things.

“The day-to-day is not the role of council,” Ferrara said. “We should be leading instead of managing.”

Ferrara said he always tries to “take a more common sense, big picture approach. Get people to see both sides of the issue and see some sort of compromise.”

Ferrara said one thing he has done well as councilman is facilitate conversations between parties. One way he could improve is to be a little more active in the follow-through. In the past he has connected two parties and left the rest up to them.

“Perhaps I could have more oversights and do a better job of measuring progress and success,” he said.

Atkinson said council needs to understand what its basic job is: taking care of the basic needs of the city.

For the large community development projects, Atkinson said a sound base and good planning is key.

Instead, council should focus on street maintenance, which will directly affect Kent’s attractiveness and desire to live there.

Street maintenance is included in the $2.5 million budgeted for central maintenance.

In the recommended 2007 budget, 7.7 percent of income tax dollars are set aside for the street construction maintenance and repair fund.

That is isn’t enough for Atkinson. He said other local communities repave 10 percent of streets every year. He estimated Kent does two percent.

He wants to establish a street paving program with a yearly minimum of streets.

Ferrara said development of downtown and other areas of the city will be the key to revitalization. Both candidates agree vacant properties are being wasted when they could be housing businesses to improve Kent’s economy and image.

Atkinson expressed confidence in the city’s ability to start uphill again. Ferrara said Kent is already on its way.

“Things are going in the right direction of good things happening,” Ferrara said. “I don’t want to see things fall back.”

Contact public affairs reporter Leslie Arntz at [email protected].