Killeen City Council members are coming to the stark realization the only way they can balance the 2017 budget is by making some serious cuts.
To this point, that’s something they’ve neither been both willing nor able to do.
On the heels of a meeting in which they voted down a proposed transportation utility fee that would have generated nearly $5 million annually, council members will host a public hearing Tuesday that is likely to bring out heated emotions — along with a second vote on the transportation utility fee.
The city finds itself with at least a $7.2 million shortfall heading into the next fiscal year and has so far done precious little to remedy the situation.
In fact, in some ways, they’ve made it worse.
Two weeks ago, council members approved the purchase of 51 city vehicles — 39 for the police department — at a total cost of about $1.2 million. Meanwhile, they voted against raising the preliminary tax rate, technically locking the city in to the current rate instead of leaving open the option of additional property tax revenue.
The council did approve impact fees, targeting developers to pay for city infrastructure, but those won’t take effect in the current budget cycle. And last week the council voted to dissolve the city’s residential curbside recycling system — at a savings of about $280,000 — but that’s small potatoes compared to the amount needed to make ends meet.
The council has an opportunity to make a significant budget impact by outsourcing the city’s garbage service, but city staffers and several council members are resistant to the idea.
Representatives of Texas Disposal Systems last week pitched a plan that would involve taking over the city’s solid waste and recycling operations, including buying the city’s fleet of trash trucks, leasing the city’s transfer station, hiring the city’s solid waste employees and possibly instituting citywide recycling — for about the same rate now charged, or lower.
However, before the TDS representatives could give their presentation, City Attorney Kathy Davis and Auditor Amanda Wallace read statements encouraging the council to seek request for proposals when contracting out services, even though Texas law has public safety exemptions that would not require it in this case.
Wallace went further, providing cost estimates of how she perceived contracting out the trash service would negatively impact the solid waste and general funds.
No doubt, long-term economic impacts should be a consideration in any outsourcing decision. But at the very least, the company’s representatives deserved polite consideration of their proposal from the council and city staff. As such, it was unprofessional and disrespectful of Councilmen Juan Rivera and Jim Kilpatrick to refuse the company’s brochure when it was offered.
Contracting out garbage service has a serious up side. TDS would hire up to 100 city employees and take their salaries, benefits and insurance costs off the city’s ledger. The city would receive a cash infusion for the sale of its fleet of solid waste vehicles, plus Killeen would save annually on the maintenance, insurance and fuel costs associated with those vehicles.
For now, the outsourcing question is in limbo. But given the city’s budget problems, it’s imperative that the council consider it carefully.
Few budget-balancing options remain at this point. Either council members must approve significant spending cuts or dip into the city’s reserves — a strategy interim City Manager Ann Farris advised against Tuesday, despite calling for drawing down the balance by more than $7 million in her original budget proposal,
With the budget deadline looming, council members must act decisively to resolve the shortfall. They can’t continue to reject solutions like a small tax increase or transportation fee simply because they’re unpopular. Cutting programs, services and city jobs or draining the city’s reserves are equally unpopular options, but those are about all the council has left.
It’s time to put political considerations aside and just do what’s best for the city and its future.