By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines City Council held its first budget session on Thursday (Aug. 2) for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year, the first of many meetings ahead leading to a potential final decision by the Council in November.

City Manager Michael Matthias told the Council study session that state law requires him to presents a preliminary recommended budget to the Council on Oct. 11, and “at that point you can go ahead and make changes” and that in the past the development of the budget has been “a very collaborative, cooperative process.”

Standard and Poors, the Wall Street rating agency, says “we are solvent, strong and sustainable,” said Matthias, and a better bond rating “reduces the cost of borrowing money and stretches out the value that our city taxpayers receive.”

He also said the city has now achieved a “very strong debt and contingent liability position,” but in 2014 the city was told by the state auditor “that we had no longterm forecast to get out of trouble — we had a situation where our structural expenditures were exceeding structural revenues and, at one point, we were looking at $700,000 in fund balance in 2016 looking forward.

“We could not cover two payrolls and we were looking at bankruptcy in 2017. We need to remember that is the backdrop of what we’ve been doing.” Now, he said, the city was “strong on our opinion,” said Standard and Poors and the city “budgetary flexibility is very strong.”

Similarly, increases in the city’s rating came from two other bond rating agencies, –Moody’s and Filch ratings.

Staff retirings addressed
The city manager also noted the problems the city faced last year and their remediation. Challenges of the past included a number of retirings and the departure to another city of the city finance director.

Retirings included the harbormaster, the parks and recreation manager, the senior service manager along with “significant attrition” in the city police department. Matthias said the city made Scott Wilkins the acting harbormaster with the intention of making him permanent soon. The city also hired Beth Anne Wroe as the finance director, and Adrienne Johnson as human resources director. Also hired was Steve Marcotte as a strategic financial advisor, who Matthias said “has been instrumental in moving our bond issuance, bond refinance and bond rathing process forward.”

Matthias also appointed Susan Cezar as interim parks director, contracted Wesley Homes to provide senior services and “addressed and resolved most aspects of the Police Department attrition” which included moving former Police Chief George Delgado to the new position of emergency management director and replaced him with former Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas. Delgado was chief for six years.

Chief Thomas told the Council that the department is fully staffed now but noted that 13 commissioned officers are currently eligible to retire. There are new officers in the offing, he said. In September he will fill a position the Council approved to work with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on violent crime along Pacific Highway. He added that two officers will be deployed to focus on street crimes “so when we get those complaints from our residents” about suspicious activities “we are going to have a team that is going to go out actively and aggressively address those problem areas.”

Chief Operations Officer Dan Brewer said there is a plan to aggressively market and expand services of the marina under the harbor master. Matthias said the Marina is a destination location and the city wants to expand the awareness of the facility.

Mayor Matt Pina said the city’s financial resurgence is “amazing” and he never expected to see a solid financial position for the city again after the years of near bankruptcy. “This is, by the true definition of the word, amazing.”

Deputy Mayor Vic Pennington said “the sacrifices the staff made, that our citizens have made, the work that the Council has done” and the leadership shown by Matthias and the negativism shown by some citizens, “it was a tough time for everybody.” Citizens did not want the city to be taken over by another city.

Pennington said it was incumbent on the Council to save the city or it was going “to go away,” but the citizens, the city staff and the Council all worked together to save the city.

“You can do and look in the mirror and be proud of your role and the roles you stepped into … and be proud of where the city is going and will literally be handing off to the next stewards of your position. I am very proud of everybody,” Pennington added.

By Jack Mayne

Des Moines Police Chief Ken Thomas said it had been a “tough week for the officers” in light of the early Sunday morning (July 22) tragedy when a Kent Police Officer was killed when another deputy’s car struck him during a pursuit near Reith Rd and Kent Des Moines Road.

Waterland Blog readers know that until recently Thomas was chief of the Kent Police. He was until he was fired by Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and almost immediately hired in Des Moines by City Manager Michael Matthias.

Des Moines officers were called to assist when Kent Officer Officer Diego Moreno was struck during a pursuit that involved a collision, and subsequently died of his injuries. Another pursuing officer was injured in the same incident and is undergoing treatment for serious injuries at Harborview Medical Center.

One dead, another injured
The suspect vehicle continued east on Kent Des Moines Road where it crashed near Washington Ave. Lifesaving efforts were immediately given to the injured officer; but he was pronounced dead at the scene. The other Kent officer “is struggling but he is going to get through it.” Thomas said the dead officer’s wife and his mother spent time in the hospital with the injured officer despite their tragedy.

A service for the deceased officer is slated for Tuesday, July 31 at the Kent Showare Center

Chief Thomas said the incident started in a Kent parking lot, where more than 39 empty shell casings were recovered.

Youth gun crime at issue
“Youth (gun) violence is really a significant issue in South King County,” the chief told the Des Moines Council.

“Our detectives in Des Moines are part of the Valley investigative team. They were all called out for that incident and it was the Des Moines detectives that were assigned to go out and track down and arrest and interview the suspects — the other suspects that go away the other night and I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our staff. It was our detectives that were given that critical, critical assignment and that very same day they were able to locate and take incriminating statements from the suspects which already has resulted in the driver being charged with murder for his part in that incident.”

Thomas said there is “no consequences for juveniles involved in gun violence. If you are caught in possesion of a firearm as a juvenile, you have to be convicted five times before you will even go to juvenile detention for more than just a few days.”

But a youth between the ages of 15 and 18 “to get caught and convicted five times is nearly impossible,” Thomas said.

Thomas was recently named the president of the board of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs which is working with state legislators to solve the issue and procure financing for “a really credible evaluation system” so juveniles with guns who get caught can be helped.