The table is set for a final vote next week on a $1.6 million street fee after the Killeen City Council stayed the course Tuesday on its decision to draft an ordinance putting the fee into law.
On Nov. 13, the council moved 4-2 to pursue a fee that would bring in $1.6 million per year for the city’s ailing road infrastructure, far below the high-end estimate of $6.2 million the city proposed. The fees would be placed on water bills.
The fee would add $1.70 to a single-family home’s monthly water bill, pending final calculations, city officials said.
The goal of the fee, according to the city, would be for developments to pay for their proportionate impact on city roads, with supermarkets and high-traffic businesses paying proportionately more than a single home.
On Tuesday, the council followed the same voting lines as its Nov. 13 decision, with Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kilpatrick and council members Shirley Fleming, Hugh “Butch” Menking and Juan Rivera moving to bring the ordinance up for a final vote Tuesday.
Council members Debbie Nash-King, Steve Harris and Gregory Johnson voted against pursuing the fee. The only difference in the votes was Johnson, who was not present for the Nov. 13 consensus.
The new wrinkle in the council’s debate was a proposal by Harris to put the fee on a July ballot as a referendum, taking responsibility out of the council’s hands and allowing residents to have a direct vote on the fee.
City Attorney Kathy Davis, however, said the city’s charter did not include stipulations that allow for voter referendums that would draft ordinances. Therefore, the city would be forced to draft an ordinance and allow residents an opportunity to pass a petition calling for a referendum vote on the law.
Kilpatrick said he viewed Harris’ proposal as a thinly veiled attempt to “kick the can down the road” on street repairs, which have been underfunded since at least 2013.
“I’m not going to kick the can any further,” Kilpatrick said. “I’ll take the chance in May when I’m up for election.”
Johnson, who has been vocal on Facebook about his opposition to the fee, said the city was rushing through a vote before all considerations had been made for businesses that he said were confused by the 79 categories of land uses that would all be assessed a different fee.
“I think this is bad for businesses and for citizens,” Johnson said. “We can make all the arguments we want to make, but we can’t shove this down their throats.”
If the fee passes council muster Tuesday, the ordinance would go into immediate effect with a six-month “implementation period” before the fee hits water bills, the city said.
In other business, the council received a briefing from Brian Davis with the National League of Cities Sewer Service Line Program on a warranty policy for sewer line repairs that would potentially require a 50-cent rate increase for all water ratepayers.
While the council did not take any action Tuesday, it did receive a briefing on optional warranties homeowners could take up covering their water and sewer lines for a monthly fee of $5.25 and $7.25, respectively. Davis said the program spent $350 million in the last three years in replacing water and sewer lines for its clients.
On Nov. 6, the council voted 5-1 to move in the direction of the city taking ownership of sewer line repairs for homeowners and opting all residents into the warranty program. The city’s current policy says homeowners are responsible for all sewer line repairs, even under the public right-of-way.
Johnson voted against the motion, and Fleming was not in attendance.
To enter into the program, the council would be required to change a city policy requiring homeowners to pay for repairs to private lines that cross over private property to connect to public sewer mains under city streets.
On Aug. 7, the council directed the city to draft an ordinance to formalize its longstanding policy, but the council has flirted with expanding the city’s responsibility for those repairs, which can reach as high as $25,000, according to some homeowners.