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Recycling

Employees move waste for recycling at the solid waste transfer station in Killeen on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.

After an eight-month wait, the Killeen City Council will take bids on running the city’s solid waste department. But this time, private companies will compete with a department running leaner than ever.

Killeen City Manager Ron Olson, at the council’s request in March, spent two-thirds of the year streamlining the city’s residential and commercial service to increase efficiency and allow the department to compete fairly with private enterprise.

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Ron Olson

Ron Olson

Despite limiting costs at nearly every level, there is still room for improvement. The city currently has no curbside recycling, could be undercut by private enterprise for its commercial service and seeks to tinker with its rates and trash-truck routes.

The council, torn by infighting on whether it’s fair to put the department and city employees out to bid, decided Nov. 28 to move ahead with bidding — doing their due diligence but potentially sowing discord in the ranks.

Could private enterprise lower rates and possibly bring recycling back to Killeen? Or could outsourcing put the city on a slippery slope in which nearly everything is up for bid?

Increased efficiency

After the council voted to halt bidding for the trash service in March, Olson spent eight months identifying short term fixes for the department he said will be folded into a long-range improvement plan.

The city tackled three major areas in its review:

• Gaps in payment

• Fleet service support

• Employee overtime

The city’s review found there were no inconsistencies with billing but did find that city facilities and certain nonprofit groups were not paying trash collection fees. Olson, arguing that privatization of the department would end that benefit, proposed the city and nonprofits now foot the bill for pickups.

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Recycling

Julio Rodriguez recycles at the solid waste transfer station in Killeen on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.

City estimates said the measure would increase revenues by more than $136,000 per year.

Olson also said the department had a history of unnecessary labor charges for in-house vehicle repairs — what he called “double-dipping” or double charging for repairs. Solid waste vehicles also experienced excessive downtime for vehicle maintenance, which the city said was addressed by prioritizing repair work to keep vehicles on the road.

Those measures saved $191,000 in last year’s budget with $387,000 expected to be saved in the current fiscal year, the city said.

The city also addressed employee overtime, which Olson said routinely takes a large chunk out of the department’s budget. The city rescheduled special pickup days, such as bulk trash, to days already on pickup schedules and is seeking a realignment of truck routes to keep drivers on the move and working under 40 hours a week.

The city also proposed putting employees on a “flex schedule” to make holidays regular working days for employees and prevent unnecessary overtime claims.

Councilwoman Debbie Nash-King was concerned the new scheduling would take employees away from their families on holidays, despite the financial savings, but Olson said the focus of the city services should be on customers — not employees — and the plan would still give employees earned holiday hours off.

“I put my trash out on Thursday — Thanksgiving — because I know they’re going to be there to pick it up,” he said. “That trust is important.”

The overtime cuts amounted to $14,500 in savings last fiscal year, with an additional $15,000 in savings projected this fiscal year. In all, the city said it had lowered its average cost of residential services per customer per month to $14.67 — a drop of $3.98 or 21.4 percent.

In terms of commercial services per customer per month, the city lowered its rate to $256.45 — a drop of $42.75 or 14.3 percent.

The city said the figure for commercial services is difficult to measure due to the wide range of services offered to customers. Commercial rates range from $21.30 to $1,719.45 a month depending on the size of the container and pickup frequency.

However, those numbers don’t figure in the cost of bringing the city’s curbside recycling program back to Killeen streets after it was eliminated by council vote in August 2016. The city said it was investigating ways to bring recycling back to the city, potentially through cooperation with Fort Hood and its on-post recycling center.

‘Managed competition’

Olson came on with the city in February touting his policy of comparing public services operations with those of private enterprise — a process known as “managed competition.”

The managed competition process follows two types: the formal bidding out of city functions and the more general push to make city departments run like service-oriented business operations.

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Recycling

Jamie Owens recycles used construction material and wood at the solid waste transfer station in Killeen on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.

So far, the solid waste department is the only service slated to go out to bid. In the meantime, the city is investigating all of its services to make them more competitive.

“Continuous improvement is part of the City Manager’s leadership style, so benchmarking and market comparison are done across the enterprise to determine where opportunities exist for or external internal improvements to service,” the city said in an email Tuesday.

In Carrollton, a city of about 130,000 in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, most of the city’s departments were put through a managed competition process starting 15 years ago to bring expenses more in line with private enterprise.

“We believe you should always do managed competition because we don’t need to pay taxes and we don’t need to make a profit like businesses do,” Carrollton City Manager Erin Rinehart told the Herald. “We want value, not necessarily the cheapest but the best quality at the lowest cost.”

Following an initial process to determine a department’s cost of services and competitiveness, some departments signed termed contracts with the city that require periodic benchmarking and review to ensure the services remain competitive.

The city estimated it has saved up to $45 million since the beginning of the process in 2002.

Despite the nearly constant review and threat of outsourcing, Rinehart said employees tend to take ownership of the process and pride in their work. The city is one of few in the state that formalized managed competition and hired a director of competition and strategic planning to guide department heads and employees.

“It’s kind of an intimidating process when it begins, but when you take ownership of it, it becomes more than just a job,” she said. “There’s a legitimate amount of fear when it begins because there’s a lot of unknown, but some point in the process it flips from fear to ownership.”

During its managed competition push, Carrollton outsourced two of its departments — fleet services and solid waste.

“They understood the industry better than we did,” Rinehart said of the city’s private solid waste contractor. “There were things where we were not as competitive and could not provide trash service at the same rate.”

However, Rinehart said the goal of managed competition is not to outsource city functions but to best manage taxpayer funds.

“We don’t outsource; that’s not our goal — in my mind, it’s sort of a failure,” she said. “It’s just to make us as competitive as possible. At the end of the day, it’s not our money; it’s taxpayer money.”

A growing rift

On Nov. 28, the Killeen council agreed to restart the request for proposal process to seek private bids on solid waste services — but not without another round of testy exchanges.

Underlying the 5-2 consensus to issue the request, a rift is forming between some members of council who risk alienating staff for the sake of due diligence and other members who appear staunchly pro-employee.

Nash-King chafed at the proposal to issue the bid request, saying the staff had gone “above and beyond” to make the department as efficient as possible and a portion of the council was obsessed with making transparent decisions.

“There’s a conspiracy over transparency,” she said. “I can understand what the citizens want, I do, but we are talking about comparisons — what is there to compare? It’s always something. It’s always some conspiracy, and this staff has gone above and beyond — when will it stop?”

Nash-King and Councilman Juan Rivera dissented with the consensus vote.

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Mayor Jose Segarra

Mayor Jose Segarra

Councilman Jonathan Okray and Mayor Jose Segarra expressed frustration that the council had delayed issuing an RFP for nearly a year due to what they saw as continued indecision by council members.

“We’re right back where we started,” Segarra said. “We just can’t make decisions.”

While not lobbying the council in either direction on the consensus vote, Olson said it was unlikely any private firm would offer better residential rates — but commercial rates could offer room for savings.

“I think we’re in about as good a position as we can be to compare to companies and other cities,” he said.

kyleb@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7567

(3) comments

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Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.


Copy: 'After an eight-month wait, the Killeen City Council will take bids on running the city’s solid waste department. But this time, private companies will compete with a department running leaner than ever.' End of copy.

I seem to remember if and when this went to a successful bidder, then the successful bid would be all inclusive, the selling of the city's rolling stock and all materials. Is this still the premise of a successful bid????

It is my opinion that the successful bidder would also pick up the city employees so that there is no major upheaval. Employees and mechanical gear would be bid as a winner take all concept.

Copy: 'Olson also said the department had a history of unnecessary labor charges for in-house vehicle repairs — what he called “double-dipping” or double charging for repairs. Solid waste vehicles also experienced excessive downtime for vehicle maintenance, which the city said was addressed by prioritizing repair work to keep vehicles on the road.
Continuation of copy: 'Those measures saved $191,000 in last year’s budget with $387,000 expected to be saved in the current fiscal year, the city said.' End of copy.

So in essence, it can be said that 'the city does not know what the city is doing'. This must have gone on with city notice, It couldn't have gone unnoticed.

Copy: 'Councilwoman Debbie Nash-King was concerned the new scheduling would take employees away from their families on holidays, despite the financial savings, but Olson said the focus of the city services should be on customers — not employees — and the plan would still give employees earned holiday hours off.' End of copy.

There have been situations, such the power industry, the refining industry, Water plant/Sewer plants, etc. that have to operate on a 24 hour day/7 day week/365 days a year basis as 'they cannot shutdown' to conform to personnel. That's just the way it is.


Copy: 'Olson came on with the city in February touting his policy of comparing public services operations with those of private enterprise — a process known as “managed competition.”
Continuation of copy: “We believe you should always do managed competition because we don’t need to pay taxes and we don’t need to make a profit like businesses do,” Carrollton City Manager Erin Rinehart told the Herald. “We want value, not necessarily the cheapest but the best quality at the lowest cost.” End of copy.

I agree that Olsen is successfully managing the departments, however I do not agree that he is doing the best job for the city of Killen in that 'he has not done anything with the outstanding contracts and bonds that I believe he should be doing. In other words, he is 'nickle and dimming' this city and ignoring the meat that this city is struggling under.

I don't see what councilwoman Nash-King is talking about. Of course you will always have dissent with the councilman/city manager form of government. But I cannot see where she is complaining about the transparency, especially in this city government. And I'll give you the case in point, of the city council holding seats in the KEDC and holding companion seats on the council. In my opinion, that should not be. There should be a clean and complete separation between the powers. There should not be any overlapping of powers between the two. There should not be any case in which the KEDC can and does operate as an extension of the city council. And there should not be any condition in which the KEDC can operate as an extension of the city of Killeen and negotiate with the full power of making and agreeing to contracts. And there should not be in any way that the KEDC can and will succeed in a contract negotiation in which some members of this council are 'kept in the dark' about contracts being negotiated which are supposed to be a city council/city manager form of government. This has not come to fruition for many years now and as a result we have a small core of city council personnel operating as an entity and therefore they have control of this city including contract negotiation, as was the case in the new city water contract that is going.

In my view, that is where the city manager should be heavily involved, in the existing contracts, including the new city water contract and the Chemical plant that is being fulfilled at this time, 'without a vote of the city council minus the council people who are enjoined with the KEDC Board of Directors who had the 'power' to complete the contract without consent of the city council. That in my mind, 'should never be'.

Copy: “There’s a conspiracy over transparency,” she said. “I can understand what the citizens want, I do, but we are talking about comparisons — what is there to compare? It’s always something. It’s always some conspiracy, and this staff has gone above and beyond — when will it stop?”
Continuation of copy: 'Nash-King and Councilman Juan Rivera dissented with the consensus vote.'
Continuation of copy: 'Councilman Jonathan Okray and Mayor Jose Segarra expressed frustration that the council had delayed issuing an RFP for nearly a year due to what they saw as continued indecision by council members.'
Continuation of copy: “We’re right back where we started,” Segarra said. “We just can’t make decisions.” End of copy.

Question: 'What is the question on conspiracy???? To me there is not nearly enough transparency in our city government. Did this city government come clean as to 'what was going on with the resumed negotiations regarding the city manager???? Did they not seek to withhold in the matter of the Chemical plant award and to this day, they apparently have refused/balked at bringing to this 'in-session city council an opportunity to vote, with the exception of the current KEDC Board of Directors who now reside on the board, and on and on. This should be with the full consent of the city council, as mentioned earlier, with the exception of the sitting members who hold both chairs, the city council and the KEDC.
@Pharon Enochs: some of what you are speaking of, I agree, and some of what you are talking about, 'I do not agree'.

Many of the points of change I agree with, but the 5th point, I do not agree.

As I have mentioned before in this article, I see this city manager 'nickle and dimming us'. As mentioned earlier, it should be the realm of the city manager to get deeply involved in contract negotiations, and seeing to it that 'all of the contracts between the city and all outside contractors are complete and accurate and go to the betterment of the city of Killeen. The city of Killeen entered into a contract with a water service contractor tat in my opinion is not in the best interest of the city of Killeen and when the city manager came on-board, he promptly said 'that there was nothing he or the city of Killeen could do, that we were stuck with this contract''. To the best of my knowledge, 'There has never been a contract that could not be broken'. It may cost the city of Killeen a little money, but in the long run, it would be the best thing to do.
So I don't agree that this city manager is 'doing the best job for Killeen'.

The fact that, 'he has made some headway', to a limited degree, but not that spectacular.

To say that 'he knows ' more about running a city than the entire council combined'. And to my way of thinking, 'he should know more about city government than the city council members, he is to guide them in the matters of city government and administration along with the city legal staff. That is their collective job.
But I differ with you on your statement:
Copy: 'The proof is in the recent audit which in my opinion had sufficient information to terminate some people and probably if a little more digging into the matter is/was done sufficient information to file criminal charges on some folks.' End of copy.

This, in my opinion, he has not done. First, the office of the past chief of police, then acting city manager, and now is in the position of assistant city manager. We are just circulating people within this city positions. Second, It seems to me as a clear shot of the member of the legal department, who was found to be shredding documentation that could have been shown to be of major consequence, but we will never know now. I have not seen any action out of this city manager in that regard. So, who has he terminated????
And I sure do agree that 'The city council members seem to be good at one thing which is running their mouths about some topics of which they have very little knowledge nor have done any research on the topic.'
And you have made a good comment with the 80/20, but I seem to favor the statement in which it says, 'To be a conversation, you have to have a both, a communicator and a listener'. Without this you only have a bunch of individuals who are talking at the same time, but nobody is listening.
And, it is of the utmost importance that 'A decision which in the best interest of the city not special interest groups'. This has not been the condition that the people of Killeen have been in for a long time'
And I agree that it would be in the best interest that we stop the district relationship and go for 7 outstanding council persons.

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.

Pharon Enochs

The following comments are indeed the opinions of Pharon Enochs. As I see it there are only five possible solutions to change the direction of this city. These are my ideas to make Killeen a place to be proud to call home. First vote the current members of the city council out of office. Second if this is not possible have another recall. Third go back to having all council positions to be t large do away with district members. The whole entire purpose of going to district representatives was an attempt to increase voter turnout. In fact it did just the opposite less voter turnout under this system than the old. Fourth take bids on outsourcing the entire city government. Fifth let the city manager do his job. He was hired at a rather handsome salary to get this city back on track. There is no doubt he has made some headway. There is also no doubt he knows more about running a city than the entire council combined. The proof is in the recent audit which in my opinion had sufficient information to terminate some people and probably if a little more digging into the matter is/was done sufficient information to file criminal charges on some folks. The city council members seem to be good at one thing which is running their mouths about some topics of which they have very little knowledge nor have done any research on the topic. There is an old adage called the 80/20 rule. In this rule you listen 80% of the time gain information consider the facts research the topic and when time for discussion you can speak with informed knowledge and use your 20% of the time showing you are well prepared to make an informed decision. A decision which in the best interest of the city not special interest groups , yourself, friends or a way to attract more votes, As city council members you are charged with making informed not arguing like some entitled spoiled brats who want is only their way for selfish reasons. If you cannot lead then follow if you can do neither of those then get the heck out of the way. God bless America, President Trump and John Wayne wherever he may be. MERRY CHRIST TO ONE AND ALL

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