Apart from public safety, no issue has divided Killeen residents more than the handling of the city’s finances.
On the heels of the city’s external management audit in August, the council and city administration have taken steps to address the misguided and poorly managed financial decisions of past councils.
The steps were important: The city is funded almost exclusively by taxpayer and ratepayer funds.
If the current municipal election season is any indication, battles over how to best steward city funds won’t be over any time soon.
There are 17 candidates running for three at-large City Council seats and the mayoral post May 5, and the ideas for handling finances are as diverse as the candidates themselves.
The candidates for the at-large council seats are:
Incumbent Gregory Johnson, 35, a businessman
Incumbent Juan Rivera, 67, a businessman
Patsy Bracey, 72, a registered nurse
Mellisa Brown, 36, a caretaker and student
Bruce Bynum, 50, a family consultant and substitute teacher
Den’Mica Eugene, 42, a salon manager
Leo Gukeisen, 52, a security company manager
Tolly James Jr., 49, an HVAC contractor
Hugh “Butch” Menking, 57, a financial adviser and former Killeen school board member
Brockley Moore, 50, a former councilman
Placidio J. Rivera, 53, a retiree
Kenny Wells, 65, owner of Wells Laundry and a former councilman
The five candidates for Killeen mayor are:
Mayor Jose Segarra, 53, a Realtor
Hal Butchart, 70, a local businessman
Arturo Cortez, 65, a retiree
Jimmy Parker, 48, a local automotive technician
Holly Teel, 47, a dog trainer
Here’s what the candidates had to say about the state of the city’s finances and where they stand on the city’s proposed charter amendments.
The council passed a balanced budget in September, moving away from the deficit budgeting that resulted in dips into city reserves in recent years.
However, bad omens abound.
According to a 2017 budget presentation, the city is staring at a $27.6 million shortfall in the general fund by 2037 based on current population growth projections.
That number could be as high as $50 million if needed road maintenance expenditures, contributions to the city’s retirement fund and employee pay increases are included.
To close that gap, the council will be forced to take a long look at the core mission and efficiency of each city department over the coming years and to make tough cuts throughout the city enterprise. The council will also be tasked with looking for new revenue streams.
This week, 10 of the candidates outlined to the Herald their plans for fighting the looming shortfall and keeping the city’s finances afloat.
Incumbents Juan Rivera and Segarra and candidates Bracey, Butchart, Parker and Teel could not be reached for comment.
Brown: “There are a lot of citizens with ideas that are ‘outside of the box;’ regular meetings to encourage the sharing of these ideas and honest follow through by the city and our partners in exploring and advancing those ideas would bring in numerous new revenue streams that don’t include increased expense to the city.”
Bynum: “The city has made cuts in the past, by trimming departments, and public safety cuts. We are still facing the projected shortfall. I will continue to study the city’s adopted financial policies and meet periodically with the city’s financial director and other experts to make sure that what we did in the past is not repeated.”
Eugene: “With the understanding that some necessary cuts have to take place to avoid a financial shortfall, we have to look at what is necessary for the city to operate. Although every community despised a increase in taxes, it has to (be) approached on a case by case basis in order to keep a community thriving, not just afloat.”
Gukeisen: “New revenues are important but not the only means to balance the budget. We also have to look at where we can ‘cut’ the budget as well.” Gukeisen’s proposed cuts included a hiring freeze, departmental budget cuts, cancellation of non-essential contracts, four-day city employee work weeks and furloughs.
James: “Zero-based budgeting. This more detailed approach is more time consuming but will find areas where we can eliminate potential waste. If you do the hard work and make the hard decisions, you could cut your expenses by up to 1 million or more a year.”
Johnson: “Smart Government and Strong Economy should be implemented first to expand the city’s tax base before considering increasing property tax and/or utility fees. This option will help to provide the revenue needed to adequately fund the municipal services that fellow citizens rely upon.”
Menking: “The city has had decreasing housing construction permits issued over many years and has essentially run off any serious development endeavors that directly create the things that generate tax revenue. These two current trends exacerbate this looming funding gap, not improve it.”
Moore: “First of all, $27.6 million shortfall in projection isn’t a sure thing will happen. The council brings up strategies to keep city taxpayers in the black by following a council plan set to serve all residents. The mayor and city manager keep the council informed of the vision and resources available. Therefore, since the city manager is responsible for day-to-day operations of the city, it is his job to keep aware. It is the council members’ responsibility to read, research and ask appropriate questions in line with the entire city health financial status quarter, biannual, yearly and when uncontrolled natural cost happens with sewage, drainage and first responders.”
Placidio J. Rivera: “For years the mayor & city council have pursued a path of revenue through means of sales tax and taxes on building permits and new homes. This has been a quick fix if you will to gain revenues but it is only a band aid and, in the end, will not fix the problems our city is facing.”
Wells: “We must eliminate duplication of efforts within and between city departments. For example, we have an entire staff consisting of qualified attorneys and licensed engineers we are paying good money. Too often, we contract with outside consultants to perform duties that could be more efficiently conducted in house.”
Cortez: “First of all the $27.6 million shortfall is a projection based on projected growth estimates, the growth of the city must now be carefully balanced against the need to rehabilitate our neighborhoods long ignore by growth.”
As a tool to better manage the city’s budget in real time, Killeen City Manager Ron Olson, hired on with the city in February 2017, proposed two City Charter amendments that the council approved for the May 5 ballot in January.
The first amendment — what will become Proposition 1 — received fierce opposition from council members Johnson, Shirley Fleming and Steve Harris due to the perception it would strip council oversight on certain financial transfers.
According to the language of the amendment, the council would lose voting oversight of specific transfers of taxpayer money during a fiscal year.
It would give the current and future city managers authority to move unspent money between city departments within a given fund.
The council would maintain voting authority over the transfer of unencumbered reserves between funds — such as the council’s approval of a $1.67 million transfer between the solid waste reserves and the general fund in December 2016.
The second proposed charter amendment is procedural and would end the city’s policy of “lapsing” capital improvement expenditures each fiscal year.
The amendment would budget capital improvement expenditures over multiple years, giving the council a more holistic view of how those projects will be paid over the course of multiple fiscal years.
The candidates are largely split on their support for the amendments, with the majority arguing Proposition 1 would strip an important “check and balance” over the city manager’s authority.
Brown: “We need to at least have some oversight from the elected officials that the citizens chose to represent them; and where the information used to make these decisions came from and are a matter of public record. We need to stop allowing individuals and organizations to circumvent the City Council and allow the elected representatives to make decisions that they feel are in the best interest of their constituents.”
Bynum: “I believe that at this time I am leaning on a yes vote, because of Killeen City manager Ron Olson’s statement that it would allow him to delegate the budget management to department heads, giving them more oversight and ownership. The fact that all our previous council members repeated how Mr. Olson has and is doing a great job.”
Eugene: “I will not vote yes on the city’s proposed charter amendments because I do realize that the budget is already allocated per department, but I do not support relinquishing control over interdepartmental funds being controlled by one person, or them having the ability to transfer.”
Gukeisen: “The citizens of Killeen have entrusted their elected officials to properly maintain tax funds. Elected officials should always be the ones making the decisions, and if these amendments are approved then it takes away that responsibility.”
James: “This is being lauded for making the process smoother and not clogging up the city council agenda. But it removes an important layer of checks and balances.”
Johnson: “I voted in opposition to this measure and will advocate against the measure at the ballot box. There’s a big difference between micromanagement and ensuring there are effective checks and balances in place to prevent fraud and mismanagement of funds.”
Menking: “I support delivering city services to citizens as quickly as possible. The city manager should be permitted and encouraged to direct resources as necessary, within legal bounds and within budget constraints, to deliver those services.”
Moore: “Yes, once the council gives the city manager a balanced budget, he must maintain and oversee to serve the residents throughout the fiscal year. The responsibility of financial health he and the mayor gives us a vision and a proposition to meet goal points. The council is responsible for bringing up permits to meet the needs of all residents in the bylaws.”
P. Rivera: “There is a serious trust issue as to the governing body of Killeen at present. Openness and transparency is the only means by which the council will gain the trust of the people back. It may be easier to move money around with a change but in light of the last couple of years things don’t need to be made easier. They need to be made more open and if the council needs to be advised and made aware of financial issues then that is their job and they need to do it.
Wells: “It is the role of the city council to be an oversight body. The city manager should not have this ability to transfer funds.”
Cortez: “The proposed amendments will be an unnecessary burden to the new, yet untrained new City Council.”