ELECTION 2018

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.

Coming shortfall

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.”

Charter amendments

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.”

kyleb@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7567

(5) comments

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

Copy: 'KISD installs stands with bond info across district'. End of copy.

Well, as usual, I can't seem to get into this article as the city, the newspaper, or both have succeeded in denying me my freedom of speech so I'll just use this avenue to get my message across.

This is my opinion and my opinion alone.

I just want to say that ' I don't care how many stands you get, or the impetus that KISD uses to get you your vote, it will be a bond of $426 million dollars I don't care how you slice the pie, you're going to get it in the nether region if this school district and if this city has it's way. The same thing goes for 'the bridge over the river called Trimmer Creek'.

You can only expect to see the tax rate go up, the roadway maintenance go down and you can expect the deluge of 'over the city line border 3,750 homes to be built.

You can expect that this city council with the mini value of 4 to 5 votes in the council, that is counting the mayor, is going to 'go with the flow, push as much as it is possible through the council as they might not have the votes that will sustain this simple majority after the May 5 election. So in my opinion, I would be a negative vote on the bond issues, the 2 amendments that is being pushed by this city administration, and be selective in the way you vote for the city council and the mayor.

This has been the personal opinion of this writer and nothing shall be used, in context or without or changed in any way without first notifying, and receiving explicit approval from this writer.
One of the 4.58 % who voted.

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

@eyewatchingu: You do not any comment about what this comment pertains to except to say that a singular opinion was not solicited from a contestant a single contestant? Then I will say this, 'the election does not bode well for the citizens of Killeen if there is nothing to tie the residents of Killeen together. As you are to note, the weekly poll that is shown weekly, does in fact represent how the citizens of Killeen feel about the representation of this city's administration group and what should be done about it by a factor of 70 to 80 percent against yet this city continues to 'go against the grain' in moving this city in what I feel is 'a path of destruction that will eventually end with the citizens of this city being taxed into oblivion'.

If that is what we as citizens want of our city government, then let us all continue toward that realization.

At least @centexdave has come out with a comment that reflects how he sees this past and present government, but no one else has tried to even comment.

This has been the personal opinion of this writer and nothing shall be used, in context or without or changed in any way without first notifying, and receiving explicit approval from this writer.
One of the 4.58 % who voted.

eyewatchingu

That is funny, Holly Teel was never even contacted about this. No email, nor did she get a phone call. Hmm. I know she was busy holding events, along with her husbands boss just passing away from a bad Motorcycle accident, yet I know she had both her phone on and her email up.

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

To say that past city councils and past city managers have not seen their way to format an annual budget is beyond the intent of this article.

I would just like to say that this council has not seen to the management of this city in a business like manner in that it would appear to this writer that there has been a great deal of 'lack of transparency', and a secretiveness in the application of a program that is used to restrict 'the free expression of speech and in communication in general'. This council is 'holding too much from view, and from publication, and expressing to the general public, also known as it's citizens', and as a result, has sought to tie this city down to what I consider as, 'not in the citizens best interest'. This can be shown by the 3,750 homes to be constructed outside of the Killeen City boundary, the fact that it proposes to sell this concept by a manipulation of a 4 simple majority for a city that has approximately 130,000 citizens residing within it's boundary's, the manipulation of a school bond that has been known for at 3 years what it would take to support such policies but not until now has this school board made public it's intentions with a $426 million dollar bond, the current city administration of a program to dissolve departmental strategies in order to get their desired objectives by splitting the Hike and Bike Trail which I view as a Parks and recreation type program/project and combining it with a transportation department package that provides roadways and a bridge that when combined will cost in the neighborhood of $7.8 million dollars and is intended to support this future housing project with the necessary roadways, that will include a bridge. There should be a separation of these two independent projects as with the Hike and bike Trail, it will not cross over the bridge in order to facilitate the completion of the Hike and Bike Trail, so again, this should be a completely separate project.

The separate bond that the city wants, of $30 million for road construction, which was pulled out of the program that was listed for road construction, at a price of $42 million, that included the road construction now a part of the Hike and Bike Trail. This is not a game that they are trying to play on the citizens of Killeen.

I am not in favor of the 2 amendments that are being put on the ballot of May 5, 2018, nor did I favor the reduction of 25percent to I think it is now at a level of 18 percent of moneys that are to be held in reserve by this city, nor the ability of the KEDC to run wildly in obtaining contractual obligation of this city without even the slightest attempt to obtain city council approval of said objectives.
This is not within the framework of the type of government we have in this city charter, allowing a simple majority of 4 out of the 7 council members with a block type voting arrangement, nor is it to be prudent that for the city manager to increase his projected venue from being the care taker of day to day operation of this city and it's budget to having the authority to suppress the authority of the city council by limiting their involvement in 'what is to be the stated objective and manipulation of generalized funding of this city.

No I agree with @centexdave: we need new blood in our city council and in the mayor's position, but I'm not sure who would be a favorable candidate and who would try to straighten this city out and operate the way it should.

This has been the personal opinion of this writer and nothing shall be used, in context or without or changed in any way without first notifying, and receiving explicit approval from this writer.
One of the 4.58 % who voted.

centexdave

Remember who got the city into the financial mess. Don't vote for any incumbent or former councilman or mayor.

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