Killeen may be facing financial insolvency.
With less than a month before the City Council must approve a budget, the city finds itself nearly $12 million in the hole, with no consensus on how to get out.
And despite the financial cliff the city is headed toward, some council members insist on spending more money anyway.
Count Mayor Jose Segarra among that group. He cast the tie-breaking votes to approve the purchases of 51 new city vehicles last week, with a $1.47 million price tag.
Voting with Segarra were Councilmen Juan Rivera, Brockley Moore and Jonathan Okray. Opposing the purchase were Councilmen Richard “Dick” Young, Gregory Johnson and Councilwoman Shirley Fleming.
With Councilman Jim Kilpatrick absent, Segarra was put in the position of breaking the tie — and he voted to spend money the city apparently doesn’t have.
Yet, the following day, the mayor said he was comfortable with his vote, saying he didn’t want to see the city “kick the can down the road.”
The problem is, city officials have consistently done just that when it comes to facing the consequences of unbridled spending, bringing the city to its current financial mess.
The council is divided into two camps: One faction sees no problem spending money for big-ticket items and digging into the city’s reserves to cover the shortfall. The other group is trying to cut spending and avoid incurring new debt.
This dynamic became clear when Young, Fleming and Johnson, as well as Okray, voted against purchasing certificates of obligation in order to “reimburse” the city and prop up its reserves. Their objection is that the city would be issuing debt for projects that should have been paid for years ago — a questionable accounting practice.
But the proposed budget had already counted the revenue, so the city is deeper in the red than originally projected.
Still, council members can’t seem to agree on how to proceed with cutting expenses or boosting revenue.
During Tuesday’s five-hour workshop meeting, members spent an inordinate amount of time talking about increasing the price of cemetery plots and hiking golf course fees, as well as saving $80,000 by cutting funding for employee awards. Modest savings in these areas won’t get the city where it needs to go budget-wise.
Meanwhile, the budget process drags on, with both Segarra and Interim City Manager Ann Farris providing little solid direction to a council in disagreement.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Segarra disregarded the comments of residents who expressed concerns about the financial impact of the vehicle purchase. He also dismissed council members’ suggested alternatives to the vehicle spending proposals as being unworkable.
Farris tried to inject herself into a discussion about conducting a forensic audit of the city’s finances — a topic that will be discussed at Tuesday’s workshop meeting.
The interim city manager offered to help decide the audit’s scope and choose a prospective audit committee.
That can’t happen.
As Farris has overseen the finance department for the past three years, she has a vested interest in the audit’s outcome. If she were to be involved in the process, it would lack integrity. Killeen taxpayers need a clear picture of what happened to the city’s finances — without interference from current administration.
That includes Amanda Wallace, the city’s internal auditor, who apparently failed to recognize the city’s financial problems as they developed.
The mayor and at least one council member have cited the cost of a forensic audit as a reason not to authorize one. But considering the budget earmarks more than $1 million for consultants, it’s reasonable to ask, at this point, which is the better investment in the city’s future?
In the long run, Killeen will get better mileage out of an audit than it will from those new vehicles.