Killeen employees won’t have to worry about having their annual “step” pay increases frozen at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
That’s because an ad hoc committee of three councilmen scoured the city’s budget and “found” the $736,000 necessary to make the raises a reality.
Councilman Richard “Dick” Young, who headed up the committee that also included Jim Kilpatrick and Juan Rivera, said it took less than an hour to identify the funding sources for the raise, after putting in some “homework” on the issue.
The committee found the money in a variety of areas, including existing city funds, grant money and fuel savings realized because of lower-than-anticipated gasoline prices.
Raises for employees in areas covered by enterprise funds — such as sold waste, and water and sewer — were already in the budget and will come of out of funds for those departments.
Young noted working through the budget to find the funding necessary for a raise was a deliberate, methodical process — and the council wasn’t given the tools to perform such an analysis during the recent budget workshops.
As a result, council members voted last month to freeze the pay increases without having all the information needed — and then were told after the fact they would have to make the freeze official through an ordinance.
With the committee finding the money for the raises, that vote likely won’t be necessary. So the issue appears to be settled — at least for this year.
But as Young pointed out in a phone interview Thursday, something’s got to change moving forward.
Killeen’s annual budget can’t continue to accommodate a built-in 2 percent raise for all employees, totalling about $750,000, without a raise in the city’s tax rate, he said.
It’s also unfair to ask all city employees to accept a reduction in pay in order to fund raises for a select group of workers — essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul — as one proposal called for.
What’s needed is a new approach to the city’s management structure and budgeting methods, as Young’s committee is recommending.
Council members are already focusing on the 2018 budget, with an eye toward combining responsibilities of several city jobs and eliminating duplication within city departments.
Young said there is substantial council support for an inventory of all city programs, in order to rate and evaluate them, and base funding on those criteria.
Some council members are also open to the idea of decreasing the frequency of step raises and making them contingent on funding availability.
To facilitate better budget planning, the council is expected to recommend that city departments meet every month to review their individual budgets. Then the council will meet with each department quarterly. In doing so, potential problems can be caught early and adjustments can be made — giving the council a real-time look at the budget as it unfolds.
As Young said, the council doesn’t want any more “August surprises.”
In the wake of the recent, turbulent budget process, it’s obvious that serious changes are needed in the way the city conducts business.
It shouldn’t have been necessary for the committee to find money for employee raises after the fact. The interim city manager and city staff should have identified the potential cost savings before budget talks began, and presented them as part of a fiscally responsible budget proposal.
Instead, the council was tasked with patching a budget with a $5.9 million shortfall without draining the city’s reserves — and without all the information necessary to make informed decisions.
Moving forward, it’s crucial that council members take the lead on making the budget process as proactive and transparent as possible. It’s also imperative that the new city manager they select be committed to integrity, openness and running the city with efficiency.
Ultimately, the city simply must be smarter with the taxpayers’ money.
It’s what they expect and deserve.