The city of Killeen administration — marked by turmoil in 2016 — finally experienced some stability at the top this year. But what will happen next?
The hiring of City Manager Ron Olson in February marked a turning of the page for the city, if only for his fresh set of eyes and 37 years of municipal management experience. Olson was the first outside candidate hired for the role since 1993.
That experience quickly paid off: Olson shepherded a balanced budget through council vote in September and distilled recommendations from an outside management audit of the city’s finances into a policy framework designed to prevent the lax regulations and questionable decision making that hamstrung previous administrations.
But with one budget cycle and 10 months passed, what does 2018 hold for Olson’s fledgling administration and the Killeen City Council? Here are a few things to expect as the new year begins.
While Olson’s team only recently emerged from the budget creation process, the fiscal year 2019 spending plan looms.
Among the many challenges facing next year’s budget is the continued constraint on revenue from disabled veteran property tax exemptions — which alone strip approximately $4.4 million annually from the city’s general fund. The city’s operational fund includes $82.1 million in expenditures.
In response to that constraint, the city passed a fiscal year 2018 budget that was notably slim on public safety overtime and positions, community activities, and road maintenance funds, among other expenditure cuts.
In 2018, if conditions stay the same, the city could be up for another round of cuts in an already lean operational account.
But help may be on the way if the city implements its long-awaited developer impact fees to help cover the cost of infrastructure improvements. The fees would be one-time levies on building permits with recovered funds limited by state law to capital improvements.
The fees are intended to offset the costs of new infrastructure designed to meet a growing population.
Another possibility, and one that has split the council for nearly two years, is a transportation utility fee, or a monthly surcharge on resident utility bills that would be used for road maintenance and improvements. The council has repeatedly voted down that type of fee over the last year and a half, favoring putting the burden on developers rather than residents citywide.
Despite that, impact fees have been previously criticized due to the possibility developers would pass the cost of the fees onto customers rather than taking a financial hit — essentially creating a new fee on homeowners in those areas.
The courting of private bids for Killeen’s solid waste department will begin apace after city staff members draft a Request for Proposals for the service early next year.
The department is a $17.4 million enterprise that served 45,475 residential customers and 1,803 commercial customers as of October.
While the desired terms of the bids are unknown, there are a few stipulations expected to make it into the proposal:
The return of curbside recycling
The hiring of the department’s 87 employees
The purchase of the city’s solid waste vehicles and supplies
The payment of a franchise fee
The rental of the city’s waste transfer station
Private enterprise scenarios are various and could be tailor-fit for resident needs, but some members of the council have already shown some antagonism toward endangering city staff positions and losing control of the service.
During a Nov. 28 briefing on Olson’s cost-saving efforts in the department, Councilwoman Debbie Nash-King railed against taking private bids, saying the city had worked hard to cut expenses.
At the center of Olson’s process of “managed competition,” city services are compared — and possibly put out to bid — against private enterprise.
While Olson has not discussed any departments that he favors for private bid in 2018, he has said his administration is constantly looking for cost-saving endeavors as the city’s general fund continues to flag.
The city has floated the possibility of a bond election in May as a companion to the Killeen Independent School District’s possible $426 million bond election on the same ballot.
The city’s bond, expected to be a minimum of approximately $46 million, would pay for road improvements in the developing south end of town, around the school district’s planned new facilities, but could also encompass more capital improvements if the council chose to expand the city’s debt.
The deadline to file the ballot paperwork for a May 5 bond election is Feb. 16.
The city already levies one of the highest property tax rates of comparable Texas municipalities, and a new bond issue would almost certainly come with a corresponding tax hike. That increase would add to the district’s property tax increase if its proposed bond passes.
The four major road projects the bond would at minimum seek to cover are:
Expansion of Chaparral Road from two to five lanes — $21.5 million
Expansion of East Trimmier Road south of Stagecoach Road from two to five lanes — $7 million
Expansion of West Trimmier Road between Stagecoach and Chaparral roads from two to five lanes — $7.9 million
Expansion of Featherline Road between Stagecoach and Chaparral roads from two to five lanes — $9 million
The total cost for all four projects — the baseline principal amount for a proposed bond — is $45.6 million.
The council is expected to discuss a possible bond early in January and could decide to add other projects onto its bond referendum at the council’s request.