By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Federal funding cutbacks on community programs are putting a strain on Killeen's budget.
During Tuesday's City Council meeting, the chairman of the Community Development Advisory Committee, Johnny Frederick, recommended that the number of code enforcement officers covered by Community Development Block Grant funds in 2007 be cut in half this year.
"We're recommending one officer and one clerk" instead of the current three officers and clerk, Frederick said. "We're certainly not advocating the city let anyone go, but we're hoping that those remaining salaries could get picked up in the general fund."
Frederick spoke as he presented the final recommendations to the council on how to allocate CDBG funds, the federal dollars designated to help communities and the nonprofit organizations within them.
CDBG is a federal grant program that has been in place since 1974 that advocates a neighborhood approach to improving physical, social and economic conditions within communities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees the funds, which are distributed to cities with a population of 50,000 and higher. CDBG funds must benefit low- and moderate-income residents, aid in the prevention or elimination of blight or meet urgent community development needs.
Killeen will receive $935,073 for the 2008-09 program year and has $71,766 in funds from the prior year for a total of just over $1 million to dole out to local organizations.
Councilman Juan Rivera said he was worried about the code enforcement department's ability to properly enforce the "target area" of the CDBG space downtown. That area is currently covered by three officers and one clerk; if their salaries are paid for by CDBG funding, they can only work in that designated zone.
Director of Code Enforcement Robert Retz said that the concentrated area may be small, but it also is cause for more than double the number of violations. There is no way it could be properly enforced if the officers were reduced to just a single officer, he said.
"We will not be able to meet the same level of service," Retz said.
Retz said that there are between 500 and 600 code violations in the downtown area per month while larger areas outside of
downtown get between 100 and 200.
Councilman Scott Cosper said the council needs to be careful about jumping to conclusions regarding the cutback in officers. He implied that the city should be using the money to do what is in the spirit of the grant money, which is designed to aid communities.
"In the past, we didn't fund city employees," Cosper said.
Instead, the money went toward the needs of the community, nonprofit organizations such as food banks and outreach centers.
Rivera noted that the safety concerns are approaching a critical level with several buildings in the CDBG scheduled for demolition.
Retz said that last year, code enforcement officers removed 14 trailers and demolished six buildings at a cost of $46,000. But there is far more work that needs to be done.
"Right now, I have a list of 17 buildings that are deemed dangerous," Retz said. "They are all in the CDBG area."
He estimates the cost to demolish the buildings to be at about $80,000. But he said that number will only grow as officers continue to evaluate the status of surrounding buildings.
"We need to do something fast because we have a situation," Rivera said.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.