During Killeen City Manager Ron Olson’s 2018 budget update at the City Council’s workshop Tuesday, a number of interesting trends rose to the surface of the 45-page presentation.
Olson’s update provided current revenue projections for the 2018 budget as well as a conglomeration of comparative demographic data, property valuation figures and city employee growth patterns.
While residents might have missed some of the juicier details in the presentation, the Herald has reviewed the city packet and identified a number of items of interest for the coming budget season.
Here’s the best of what we found.
While the number of full-time employees in all city departments has crept up over the last 10 years, the city actually has fewer per capita employees available to serve the growing population of Killeen.
The current number of full-time employees sits at 1,301, with the vast majority — 948 — grouped into the operational departments, including public safety. The number of full-time employees citywide in 2007 was 1,025.
Despite that growth, the city’s per capita rate for full-time employees has actually decreased from 9.9 to 8.9 over the last 10 years, potentially limiting the city’s ability to offer municipal services to its residents.
In his rewritten mission statement for the city, Olson highlighted quality municipal services as the centerpiece of the city enterprise.
“The purpose of a city is to provide municipal services and facilities that meet the needs of citizens,” Olson said Tuesday.
Olson’s presentation used 11 “benchmark cities” as a measuring stick for the city’s growth. By comparison, Killeen sits in the middle of the pack for employee per capita rates with Pasadena at the low end with 7.2 full-time employees per capita and McAllen at the top with 16.78.
In addition, personnel services expenditures — including salaries, retirement pay and overtime — has also increased dramatically over the past 10 years with 79 percent of general fund expenditures going to full-time employees. That number was only 69 percent in 2007.
Olson told the council Tuesday that figure still sits in a comfortable range, but he asked for the council to consider whether that number was something to limit or continue to increase in the future.
Another point of note, every city department’s per capita rate declined over the last 10 years except one: the public information department headed by Director of Public Information Hilary Shine.
The department currently staffs six full-time employees, compared to 3.5 in 2007.
PUBLIC SAFETY EXPLOSION
The percent of the city’s general fund devoted to police and fire has grown by 14 percent over the last 10 years, according to pie charts comparing city expenditures.
In 2007, public safety expenditures made up about 50 percent of the city’s operational fund, but that number currently sits at 64 percent — with more growth potentially on the way.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald April 11, Olson said he wasn’t necessarily concerned by the size of that figure but wanted to know if the growth was an intentional decision by past City Councils.
Despite that growth, cuts to police and fire overtime in September have led to outcries from firefighter advocacy groups after engines and ambulances have periodically been pulled from service due to the city’s recently instituted tiered overtime-reduction plan.
There are currently 384 budget full-time police employees and 237 budgeted full-time fire employees.
STAGNANT PROPERTY TAX
Despite the third-highest property tax rate in its benchmark group, Killeen has the second-lowest taxable value per household figure — an untenable trend tied to some policies the city cannot control.
One of the staggering figures hitting the city’s property tax figures are state and local exemptions that have nearly tripled over the last 10 years.
The city currently loses nearly $1 billion from its tax rolls each year due to exemptions.
The exemption with the biggest hit? The state disabled veteran homestead exemption, which alone took nearly $375 million off the tax rolls in 2016, according to Bell County Appraisal District records.
At the city’s 74.98 cents per taxable value assessed rate, that’s about $3.5 million in revenue due to homestead exemptions the city doesn’t receive — although the state cuts the city a check each year for around $800,000 to help defray costs.
Olson said the city is currently working with its lobbying group in Austin — The Schlueter Group — to push for more financial help from the state, but some council members asked what exactly the city’s $100,000 contract with the firm brings the city if the biggest drain on the city’s finances was not being addressed.
Exacerbating that trend is something the city can help control: The average value of a home in Killeen is approximately $113,000 — one of the lowest in the benchmark group.
Mayor Jose Segarra, a Realtor, said the city’s sea of affordable homes is tied to the low median income of Killeen residents, which actually sits in the middle of the city’s benchmark group at $47,763 per household.
Home diversity has become a hot-button issue for the council recently. After a discussion Tuesday on retaking platting review from the city’s planning and zoning commission and updating neighborhood design standards, Councilman Gregory Johnson sent an email to Olson and Segarra proposing a new ad hoc committee to rework the city’s design standards and boost home quality — and value — throughout the city.
“My core goal as a city Councilmember is to help ensure Killeen continues to be the ‘Place’ where people want to work, play and grow their families,” Johnson wrote.