By Hailey Persinger
Killeen Daily Herald
For the city of Killeen, the price of the City Council's weekly dinners and miscellaneous expenses warrants a yearly budgetary allotment of $43,000.
According to documents obtained through an open records request, the city spent about $6,000 between April and September of this year from its non-departmental miscellaneous fund to pay for meals that are set out almost each week during council workshops and various committee meetings.
The fund also covers miscellaneous expenses like fuel used to deliver the council's agenda packets to them and TV equipment to film regular meetings.
Of the $5,911.30 spent between April 2 and Sept. 29, the largest chunk was spent on city council workshop meals, which added up to $4,360.47. Receipts for those meals, many of which total at least $100, show dinners from area restaurants like Schlotzsky's, Chick-fil-A and Stonetree Grill.
City Council members typically meet around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoons for workshops during which discussions are held regarding items on the evening's agenda. Regular meetings, most of which have started at 6 p.m. in recent months, can run as short as half an hour to an hour and a half.
Barbara Gonzales, finance director for the city, said that putting out meals for council members and some city staff is a way to say "thank you" for their service to the city since council members are each paid just $100 monthly and the mayor is paid $200 for overseeing the council.
"If you think about how many committees they serve on, they spend a lot of time up here," she said. "They get compensated very little so we try to take care of their food."
Meals for some of the council's standing committees are also included in the $43,000 miscellaneous fund, which is separate from the City Council's own budget and was not cut during this year's budget season.
Of the four committees that brought in food for their meetings, the water/sewer/drainage committee, chaired by Councilman Larry Cole, spent the most at $615.12 between April 7 and Sept. 1. Receipts for the monthly meetings include a $120 tab on May 8 for 16 boxed lunches from Jason's Deli and a $146.80 receipt from the same restaurant for the committee's Sept. 1 meeting.
The community services committee, which also meets monthly and includes Council members JoAnn Purser, Juan Rivera and Kenny Wells, spent $425.14 on food between April 28 and Sept. 22. The animal advisory committee, on which Cole and Purser also serve, rang up $295.61 in food between April 22 and Sept. 17. Receipts from the employee insurance committee, which met once on Sept. 23 and is chaired by Purser, totaled $214.96 from Jason's Deli.
City Manager Connie Green said that during budget season, he considered cutting from the miscellaneous fund but that it wouldn't have made much of a dent in the long run.
"We looked at hundreds of items in the budget to try to make some reductions and I know that was one of the ones that we looked at," he said. "I guess it just did not end up being an item that would have produced a significant reduction in the budget."
The council approved the $188 million budget Sept. 15. Purser said that money allotted for meals could be something she'd consider bringing up when it comes time for a mid-term assessment of the city's budget.
"We could modify that budget now. Is that something that the council should look at now? Possibly," she said. "We could say 'look, everybody's cutting corners and we want a report.'"
She said that while sometimes food is good to have, the offerings could be scaled back from things like pizza and barbecue to finger foods.
Not in Harker Heights
Patty Brunson, assistant city manager for Harker Heights, said the Harker Heights council stopped buying food for its bi-monthly council workshops when the members realized that their meetings ended before all of it had been eaten.
"If it is an all-day event, we usually have some type of snacks whether that be sandwiches or something like that," she said. "We've saved some money, but we didn't spend hardly any money in the first place. If we'd spent $10, that would have been a lot."
Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper said he typically does not eat at the meetings, but that when meetings go long, food is imperative for some council and staff members.
"The health of the people that could require some sort of diet over a several-hour meeting is a priority for me. I would never want to cause them any grief or any dismay because we were being 'chinchy,'" he said. "Certainly if it were to come down to costing people their jobs, certainly that and other things could be cut."
Contact Hailey Persinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.