If you’ve ever had a garage sale, you’ve most likely paid a fee for the permit.
In most cases, such fees are small — typically in the $5 range.
But a garage sale permit is just one of hundreds of programs and services for which the city of Killeen charges a fee — which can range from 10 cents for photocopying a page at the library to more than $3,500 for renting out the entire Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
Fees are charged for everything from replacement library cards to cleaning a Dumpster. Fees are also charged for aviation fuel, ambulance calls, building permits, pet adoption and police accident reports.
The list of fees is so extensive that the small-print line items for these fees and associated services take up about 30 pages in a document that can be found on the city’s website.
It’s not only informative to read the document; it’s also timely. Between now and April 30, there is a public comment period on the proposed fee schedule that will be effective Oct. 1.
And while the vast majority of the proposed fees are unchanged from the current rates, several proposed increases stand out.
For example, the fee for a Code Enforcement mowing violation would double, from $25 to $50.
Cart shed rental at the city’s golf course would increase from $900 to $1,200 annually under the fee proposal.
And rental fees for city athletic fields would rise $25 per event under the new fee schedule.
The city is also proposing hiking the room rental fees at the conference center, with increases ranging from $35 for the smallest ballroom to $165 for Ballrooms A, B and C — and $356 for the entire building.
However, the city is obviously working to make space rental at the downtown Killeen Arts and Activities Center easier to afford.
While the prime-time rental fee for the Performing Arts Auditorium would rise from $500 to $625, the rate for renting rooms on weekdays would drop anywhere from $37 to $185 from current rates — a considerable enticement for groups looking for meeting or performance space.
Membership fees for residents also would drop at the Lions Club Park under the proposed rates. The decreases range from $14.50 for quarterly adult memberships to $40 for an annual adult membership.
All of the fees listed in the document are considered fees that are set by policy, as opposed to those set by ordinance. The city manager, Ron Olson, has the authority to set the policy fees, which by law must be set below the benchmark average of Killeen’s peer cities, according to the packet’s introduction. The City Council is responsible for establishing the fees set by ordinance.
Some of those fees have been somewhat controversial, including the street maintenance fee, which will be assessed on residential and commercial utility bills beginning in July. The fee, which was approved in a narrow 4-3 council vote, will bring in about $1.6 million annually to fund desperately needed repairs to the city’s aging road infrastructure.
The council is also moving forward with plans to impose impact fees, which would be added onto commercial or residential building permits and help pay for new infrastructure costs in high-growth areas.
The council approved the concept of establishing impact fees in 2016. The final draft of the city’s study report is due in July. According to information from the city, impact fees could recover more than $40 million for future road, water and sewer projects.
Both the fees set by policy and those set by ordinance are helping the city to maintain a prescribed level of programs and services, as well as provide revenue needed to balance the municipal budget.
But as Olson noted in his FY 2018 Annual Report, included in residents’ April utility bills, the city has been maintaining levels of service by deferring needs like building and street maintenance, as well as undercompensating employees and underfunding retirement accounts.
Unfortunately, the problem stands to get worse instead of better, unless the state Legislature addresses a growing drain on the city’s revenue: the disproportionate impact of disabled veterans property tax exemptions.
While these state-mandated exemptions are well-deserved, they are not fully compensated by the state — an imbalance that this year stands to cost the city about $5.3 million in exempted tax revenue. And Olson has projected that amount will increase dramatically over the coming decade if the current trend continues.
Fortunately, Gov. Greg Abbott has spoken out in favor of legislative action to rectify the lack of state compensation to impacted communities.
If the Legislature follows through on his recommendations during the current session, Killeen may see some relief as early as this fall.
That’s important, because the city is heading into budget season, and what the final spending document looks like — from police protection to programs at the senior center — will be determined by how the veterans exemption reimbursement is addressed in Austin.
The city’s current tax rate can’t cover the revenue loss forever. Neither can the myriad fees the city charges for permits, passes, parking and space rentals.
The city needs a steady source of revenue to accomplish its goals, pay its employees and serve its residents at the level they expect and deserve.
It’s going to be up to our lawmakers at the Capitol to help the city stay on that path.