Suzette Cooke retires as Kent mayor

By Mitchell Roland - Staff Reporter

The City of Kent will get a new mayor come the first of the year, closing a 12-year chapter that saw the city change drastically.

During Suzette Cooke's time in the mayor's office, she saw the city increase in population and territory, and oversaw the creation of a new arena in downtown Kent.

In 2010, Kent annexed five square miles of land by Panther Lake on the east hill. Kent's population has grown from an estimated 84,674 in 2005 to 127,514 in 2017, and it is the sixth largest city in the state.

Cooke, a former Republican Washington state legislator, said that this will be the end of her political career.

"I'm not going to run for office again," she said.

But she said she does want to join a nonprofit or another organization because she "wants to continue to work with people."

It was working with senior citizens in the 1970s, that gave her the idea to run for office, Cooke said.

She said that before that she "didn't really know anything about politics."

One of the biggest additions to Kent during Cooke's time as mayor was the construction of the Accesso Showare Center. Built during the height of the great recession, the arena has lost money every year since it opened in 2009. The venue has lost a total of $3.5 million since it first opened its doors.

Cooke said that the project was a victim of terrible price escalation, which resulted in the cost escalating $600,000 a month. But she said that it was worth it, saying that it has become an "attraction."

"Operationally, what it loses is a drop in the bucket for what it brings in," Cooke said.

Cooke said that the arena creates $12 million in economic benefit yearly for the businesses around the Accesso Showare Center, and that the venue kept surrounding businesses in operation during the recession.

"We would have seen Kent Station shuttered," Cooke said, adding that "we kept those restaurants alive."

Cooke said that there is a difference between worth and cost. She cited the Senior Center, which costs $1 million a year to operate, as a way the city spends money to benefit the community.

"Who would ever say that's a loss?" Cooke asked.

The mayor also says she is working on bridging Kent's "fiscal cliff" while she is in office.

The fiscal cliff is a result of Washington switching from an origin-based taxing system to a destination-based taxing system, which hit Kent hard due to the number of warehouses in the valley. The State of Washington currently subsidizes Kent $5 million a year for the switch. That money could stop coming in 2021 or sooner.

That, along with the $4.7 million the city will be losing from the state starting in 2020 for the annexation of the Panther Lake area, has the city is looking for new revenue.

Cooke said that she has "given them [the City Council] tools for the budget to bridge the fiscal cliff."

She says that the City Council took a good first step last Tuesday by agreeing through a series of head nods to raise the property tax. The council cannot officially vote on the matter until they adopt the 2018 budget in December.

But one thing she does not want to see is a raising of the business and occupation tax.

"I have always opposed the B&O tax," Cooke said.

Cooke says she opposes the B&O tax because "it is basically based on gross income. A business could lose money and still have to pay a fixed percentage."

She said she favors an income tax but, "we don't have that choice."

An income tax would require amending the state constitution, and voters have repeatedly rejected income tax proposals.

Even though she is focused on the budget now, she still has her eyes on the future. She said she is in constant communication with Mayor-elect Dana Ralph on many things.

Dana Ralph was elected the new mayor of Kent earlier this month after Cooke decided not to seek re-election to a fourth term.

Cooke said that Ralph has "already shown her leadership," and that Ralph is prepared and ready to replace her.

"She's been preparing to be mayor for several years," Cooke said, referencing Ralph's work on the Kent City Council.

As her time as mayor comes to a close, Cooke said that her favorite thing about Kent are the people who live there.

She said she has a great empathy for the immigrants who have moved there, and that the city has a "track record of a welcoming city."

When she first ran for mayor, she said that she doorbelled seven days a week to reach out to residents.

"That's what makes a community, the characters," she said.

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