The Killeen City Council is running out of options.

After voting down a preliminary two-cent raise in the city’s tax rate last week, council members effectively took their biggest potential revenue option off the table.

That’s a problem, since the council needs to balance a budget that’s potentially about $12 million in the hole.

It makes Tuesday’s council vote on establishing a transportation utility fee more crucial, since few significant revenue options remain.

Imposing the fee would cost each resident $5.83 each month, to be included on the city water bill. The revenue — projected at about $5 million annually — would fund transportation infrastructure needs.

The concept has met council resistance, as some members have expressed concern that lower-income residents would be adversely affected.

But with less than a month remaining before the council must adopt a budget that’s seriously out of balance, it’s becoming apparent that adopting the fee could be a make-or-break proposition.

The seriousness of the situation became even more obvious late last week with the acknowledgement by several council members that Police Chief Dennis Baldwin talked to them individually to pitch the transportation utility fee, with Interim City Manager Ann Farris’ consent.

One member said Baldwin explained that Farris proposes creation of a fund using money from the Killeen Economic Development Corporation budget to offset the transportation fee for economically disadvantaged residents.

That’s all well and good, but is it the job of the council and interim city manager to pick winners and losers when it comes to fee payments?

One council member also said Farris offered funding for a forensic audit — again to come from the KEDC’s budget — as a way to sweeten the pot on the fee issue.

As several council members had expressed reservations about authorizing a forensic audit in the current budget cycle, Farris’ proposal is significant. Still, it is not her job to authorize or find funding for a forensic audit. That should be left up to the council.

It’s not likely the chief’s talks with council members constituted a breach of open meetings law — unless he solicited votes and shared council members’ responses with other members. Still, it’s not the way the city should be conducting business.

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation, said Farris could have offered her proposal in more transparent ways, including holding a public briefing; sending out a printed briefing and posting it publicly; or having an online discussion with the council in which the public could take part.

Obviously, a lot is riding on Tuesday’s vote. If the fee is voted down, the council will be left with some undesirable options: making substantial cuts in city programs, services or positions; drawing down the city’s reserves to dangerously low levels; a combination of cuts and using reserves; or passing an unbalanced budget.

Still, even if the fee is approved, it is technically a tax — one that would be assessed on some residents who don’t use the city’s roads much or even at all. That’s certainly a consideration.

With the clock ticking, Farris finds herself in an uncomfortable situation. If the council opts not to make any changes to the budget she proposed last month, it will go into effect Oct. 1. That means taking $7.2 million from the city’s reserves to cover a projected shortfall. However, that shortfall is even larger now, after council members recently rejected certificates of obligation that would have reimbursed the city with $4.1 million — money already factored into the budget.

Now, city officials are forced to engage in 11th-hour maneuvering to push for a revenue-producing tool to pull the budget out of the ditch.

Council members must act quickly and decisively to right the city’s budget ship. Whether that means approving fees, making substantial cuts or both, it’s time to make the difficult decisions they were elected to make.

The city’s options —and the time to exercise them — are running short.

Contact Dave Miller at dmiller@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7543

(4) comments

Rock hauler

One member said Baldwin explained that Farris proposes creation of a fund using money from the Killeen Economic Development Corporation budget to offset the transportation fee for economically disadvantaged residents.

The above sounds highly suspect. First of all where is the finance director in these discussions. It sounds like the police chief is preparing and promoting this budget. Maybe that is why the police and fire budget has increased by $8 million for 2017. That is where the deficit is, but the city will not admit to that which is highly questionable as well.

Is it even legal to create a fund as is being put forward. On the face of it it does not appear so. This budget is a clear case of incompetence by all involved in the budget process. The city is attempting to force the council to make all the decisions. No city manager or finance director that has any experience or budgetary knowledge would propose a budget that is in the hole. This whole process has been absurd.

It is time for a recall folks, let's get rid of the incompetence and liberal leadership from okray, Moore, Rivera, and kilpatrick, the new council must remove Ann Farris and Jon Locke that have proven that they are not up to the job.

It is also ironic that Detroit Michigan was led by liberals and filed bankruptcy. The city of Killeen has a council of inept liberals, a city manager with zero city experience that hired a finance director with minimal experience from Michigan. I wonder if he is even licensed in Texas. It is obvious that he is scrambling and utterly incapable of running Killeen finances. What happened to the budget director that Killeen is now advertising for?

Bear3

@Scot, I completely Diasagree with your comment. Last weeks editorial was not done by Miller first of all. Secondly, these editorials are covering what the average citizen with common sense but does not work in a immoral, unethical infested government can now comprehend. It is being put in our terms.
In my opinion the poorly run mismanaged government by Corbin, Cosper and Morrison with his undesirable collusion for years that is leading up to a bankrupt 'city without limits' hiring Farris with no background in Finance and Wallace - Internal Auditor leaves a big question about why she and others never exposed this financial crisis earlier to the governing body? Their job descriptions clearly define they have responsibility to report such deficits and would show in the monthly reporting if Farris would have done her job requiring staff follow charter; Walkace should notice the major declines in fund balances in the CAFR working with external auditors annually.
KDH was on their heals for the last few years about obvious budget amendments out of general fund to developers for city owner agreements that normally took place out of bond funds, questioning the huge decline in general fund and water and sewer fund balance. KDH also questioned the increase transfers from the enterprise funds to the general fund and why over a million dollar was plugged into the general fund for bond funds was placed into the 2016 budget. They never responded until July when Farris clearly indicated this was illegal causing a double dip effect. Other items KDH has questioned includes but is not limited to the illegal procurements practices with G4S costing over millions of dollars and change orders exceeding 25%. This bid by law could not be bid by using airport federal funds therefore it was never bid for the utility building, cornerstone, municipal court, etc. This did not include the so called $89,000 Cosper cousin issue exceeding $50,000 that was never bid. Other issues include procurements of not the local Zip cleaners where police dept takes their clothes to 'not the 'lowest responsible bidder' but the 'Highest responsible bidder' again illegal.

KDH is reporting these issues for citizens sake otherwise the city would have no reserves today!!

Scot

I think the editor is trying to have it both ways with this editorial.

By declaring that it is not the city manager's job to find funding options ("winners and losers, your words), you have 180-degree changed a previous editorial position when you previously declared that the interim city manager should be bring the council some options.

Which is it you prefer?? Or are we now at the point that every action will be criticized?

I think instead of micro-criticizing every action in this countdown to the budget, you should be taking a look in the mirror and asking how the KDH missed so much of this until it was laid on the council's table last month. Your article looking for "who knew what, when" is nice start.

Perhaps that will be the basis of an editorial that informs the region's readership how our prime source of checking the actions of our elected government and city government missed so much of this until now.

I look forward to that editorial: "in the process of uncovering this for you, this is what the KDH missed relaying to you in years past when it could have made a more timely difference."

Step above the fray and think bigger.

Realist10

I am of the opinion that Farris and Baldwin are functioning unprofessionally and I must agree with City Councilman Young, these discussions should be left at the round table for all to hear. All should be transparent to maintain a higher level of integrity for all city officials to hear. The manner in which Chief Baldwin is discussing the utility fee issue behind closed doors individually prior to the meeting persuading them if you will is unacceptable practice.
These meetings with Chief Baldwin sound suspect to a walking quorum.
It would be interesting to hear 'An Attorney General's Opinion' on this circumstance.

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