The city of Killeen took a significant step to address its ailing road network last week when the Killeen City Council reached a contentious decision to raise $1.6 million through a street maintenance fee.
The city envisioned the fee, which will roll out with utility bills in July, as an equitable solution for residents and businesses to pay for the estimated impact they have on the city’s streets. The average single-family home will pay $1.70 per month.
For residents of the city’s older neighborhoods, the fee could present a changing of the tide as homeowners have seen new roads and infrastructure move south while older roads continued to deteriorate for years.
On Tuesday, the council approved the fee and a separate fund for revenue in a 4-3 vote, with dissenting council members saying residents were concerned the fee would not be used for its intended purpose.
With six months before residents and businesses feel the effects of the fee, the city has a number of kinks to work out, including setting priorities for which roads will be fixed first.
Here are some frequently asked questions the Herald has received from residents and answers with information available from the city.
Q: Will the fee apply to me?
Under the ordinance approved Tuesday, the fee will apply to almost everyone in Killeen: residents, businesses, places of worship and schools.
The only organization fully exempt from the fee is the city of Killeen.
The city is utilizing 77 categories of land use to help it calculate how much each type of building would pay. Those designations are borrowed from the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Trip Generation Manual, which allows city planning departments to estimate the amount of traffic a proposed development would generate. The manual is a national standard, according to the city, and the designations are not being altered or adjusted for the fee.
Some of the land-use designations are broad. For instance, a single-family home will pay the same fee each month regardless of how large the home is, how many people live there and how many cars are there.
The current estimate for a single-family monthly fee is $1.70.
Churches, like most of the designations, will be charged a scaled fee determined by the square footage of the property — meaning the largest churches will pay more per month than a smaller church.
In the business categories — which take up most of the designations — the fee is calculated by how much estimated traffic is generated by the building and the size of the building.
For instance, a 20,000-square-foot supermarket would pay upwards of $170 per month due to the high volume of traffic and the sheer size of the business. A 10,000-square-foot supermarket, by contrast, would pay half that — or about $85 per month.
For owners of vacant property, the street fee will not apply, city officials said, because vacant property does not generate vehicle traffic.
For a full list of the 77 land-use designations, visit www.killeentexas.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1087/Land-Use-Summary.
Q: What will the fee be used for?
The city said the purpose of the fee is to address the city’s continued underfunding of preventative road maintenance since at least 2013.
In 2013, the city commissioned an outside road inventory study from TransMap, which determined the city needed to hit a $1.9 million per year target for repairs to keep the city’s roads from continuing to rapidly degrade.
The council budgeted just $300,000 for street repairs in fiscal 2019.
The city has said the more it underfunds repairs, the more the city’s deferred maintenance “backlog” increases. The city does not have an exact figure what its backlog currently is, but the TransMap study offered a “fix-everything” estimate of $16.7 million in 2013.
Some estimates for the current backlog reach as high as $40 million.
While residents might assume the fee will be used solely for pavement projects like chip sealing and overlays, the city’s ordinance allows the fee to be used not only for roadways, but also supporting structures like bridges and rights-of-way.
“The transportation system as referred to in the proposed ordinance consists of the structures, streets, rights-of-way, bridges, alleys and other facilities within the city limits dedicated to the use of vehicular traffic,” said Director of Public Works David Olson in an email. “The ... ordinance provides for the maintenance of these items as they are all integral parts of the streets system.”
Q: What will the fee not be used for?
To stave off concerns the $1.6 million annual fee will be used for purposes other than street maintenance, the council directed staff to create a separate “Street Maintenance Special Revenue Fund” that would not be commingled with property and sales tax revenue in the city’s general fund.
Currently, the city’s street operations department, which includes street maintenance, is in the general fund.
The new fund would act as a separate pot of money for revenue for the fee, pre-empting concerns the money could be easily moved to other pressing operational needs.
The city said the $300,000 currently budgeted for street repairs would be transferred to the new maintenance fund at a later date.
Also, the fee will not be used for major road projects and cannot be used to build or expand roads.
That means high-dollar repairs such as those needed on Watercrest Road and Rancier Avenue will not be paid by the fee. It also means proposed expansion projects, such as the widening of Chaparral and East Trimmier Roads, will not be included.
The city treats those major reconstruction and expansion projects as capital improvements, which are paid through a dedicated capital improvements fund and through bond money.
Q: Whose streets will be fixed first?
A major concern for councilmen Gregory Johnson and Steve Harris is whether north Killeen, with the largest amount of old and ailing roads, will see their streets repaired first.
The answer is, the city doesn’t know yet.
On Tuesday, director of communications Hilary Shine said the city received a “priority list” of road repairs during the 2013 TransMap study but said the list is out of date and is scheduled to be updated during the course of the fee’s six-month implementation period.
In an interview in late November, City Manager Ron Olson said the city would follow the direction the city’s engineers gave them for repairs and move away from the political back-and-forth that could erupt if the council or residents have the ability to influence the city’s priority list.
Q: Can money be taken out of that fund for other purposes?
Perhaps the central concern for residents is trust: Will the city use revenues from the fee for only street maintenance and not shift funds for other uses?
There are some protections in the ordinance that would prevent commingling of the fee with other sources of revenue, including the establishment of a totally separate fund and language limiting expenditures to just street maintenance.
Like other city funds, there are avenues that allow transfers back and forth — but all of those require council approval. The most obvious are “interfund” transfers, or council-approved shifting of surplus reserves from one fund to another that are allowed by the city’s charter.
The last time the council approved an interfund transfer was in January 2017, when the council approved the $1.67 million transfer of solid waste fund reserves to the general fund.
Because the need for repairs is dire, it is unlikely significant reserves would ever materialize in the street maintenance fund, but that doesn’t prevent the possibility of reserved funds being moved if the council desires it.
Another option would be an interfund loan, in which the city sends money from one fund to another with a schedule to pay it back.
The council will consider an interfund loan Tuesday, when it decides whether to send around $700,000 from the general fund to the aviation fund to pay for design of a taxiway project for which the city is seeking a federal grant.
If the council approves the loan, the aviation department would be required to pay back that loan by September.
Q: Will the fee be audited?
On Tuesday, the council specified it wants two audits of the program each year to ensure the fee is being correctly used.
One of those audits would be conducted by city auditor Matthew Grady, who reports directly to the council, and the other would be performed by the city’s outside auditor, Belt Harris Pechacek. It’s unclear whether the external audit would be performed separately or as part of the firm’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report process, according to the city.
Q: How will the city collect the fee?
According to the ordinance passed by council, the fee will be assessed each month on utility bills sent to homes and businesses.
The street maintenance portion of the bill will be specifically listed on residents’ bills, the city said.
Like any mandatory fee the city levies, the council included language in its ordinance allowing the city’s legal representation to sue for back fees if residents don’t pay the bill in full.
Q: Can I protest my fee?
Yes, the city included a protest clause in its ordinance that allows residences or businesses to protest their land-use designation.
The city has not yet disclosed how that protest process would work or who residents would contact to protest.