By Jack Mayne

Mayor Dana Ralph told the Kent City Council at its regular meeting Tuesday night (April 21, 2020) that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a significant budget problem of over $10 million and that will mean cutting the city’s budget.

The Council also heard from King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn.

Shortfalls
“This pandemic has created significant issues and shortfalls in the city budget. We are looking at decreased revenues between now and the end of the year of over $10 million,” Ralph said.

“In the effort to make sure the city is responsible and sustainable, we are working with all of our department directors to identify budget cuts, and the reality is that is going to be done through expenditures and services that we provide to our community. These are not things we take lightly and there is definite concern around them” but to keep providing necessary services, Ralph said over the next month, she would present ways to cut the city budget.

“None of these things will be taken lightly,” she said, and the members of the City Council will be involved.

Bring employees back
Derek Matheson is Kent’s Chief Administrative Officer and he told the Council Tuesday night that the administration is working to bring back into the City Hall the employees who have been working on problems related to COVID-19. Now the city is working on the needs for work safety and whatever is required to make city employees safe.

With employees telecommuting, he said the city needs to look at policies for that, to “Continue or not for the future.”

Crime increase
Police Chief Rafael Padilla said that the police department has had no one who has contracted the COVID-19 virus with several members tested but none with a positive return.

But he said there were some concerns with an “alarming” increase in crime. News stories about the decrease of crime “are definitely not true here in Kent,” Padilla said, even though non-emergency calls are down in an effort to reduce direct contact with potential virus sufferers.

Looking at crime trends, Padilla said there are “some alarming” increases in crime, and he noted one area of increase is in commercial burglaries, vehicle crimes, assaults and shootings. Most crimes are random, with people who have known each other or “had some prior conflict” and those involved in drug purchases.

Most of the perpetrators are now in jail, he said, “or it is just a matter of time.” Because of trying to limit personal contact, officers are on the streets “to actually find bad guys.”

One of the factors leading to higher crime is that businesses are shut down, making it easier for the criminals, and there are more criminals on the street, the chief said.

With schools out, Padilla said many youth had no where to go and nothing to do, so some do illegal things. One of the problems is street racing which also has increased, and which he said his officers would enforce violations.

“Please don’t come to Kent to race,” Padilla said.

Reagan Dunn on COVID-19
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn was in a virtual visit to the Kent City Council and told the Council that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way governing is working, changing the economy “in dramatic ways.” He said as of April 20, there were 5,293 COVID cases in the county, the first place in the U.S. the virus struck, and the trajectory of additional cases isn’t as steeply upward bound as places like New York.

King County has, besides the social distancing and “stay at home” orders, postponed the property tax deadline to June 1. It also has provided emergency money for childcare, $42,2 million for first responders and “other essential workers struggling with childcare needs.”

He brought up the isolation and quarantine center at the former Econo Lodge Motel at 1233 Central Avenue North in Kent, and said as of April 21 there were 23 individuals there. Dunn said these are people “who cannot safely self-quarantine or isolate in their own home — or don’t have a home.” The total capacity of the facility is 79 people. There was a death at the facility on Monday, as reported by the County Executive’s office, said Dunn (read our previous coverage here).

Besides Kent, there are isolation/quarantine centers in White Center, Issaquah, and two in Seattle.

Dunn showed a graph on the “incredibly great concern” over the statewide unemployment claims. He said it was “a recession and then some.”

Padilla said he was “incredibly pleased” to promote Melanie Robinson to sergeant. She is a seven-year veteran of the Kent Police Department and has been a detective in Persons Crimes for the last four years. New Police Officers David Castro, Douglas Hicks and Jonathon Jarman were also introduced to Council.