It took seven weeks, but Killeen City Council members finally reached agreement on some significant cuts to the municipal budget Tuesday.

If the council formally votes to approve the $4.87 million in reductions this week, it will still find itself with a funding shortfall of $1 million for the 2017 budget. Still, it’s a far cry from the $7.2 million interim City Manager Ann Farris said they needed to find when she presented her proposed budget on July 19.

That was nearly two months ago. With the Sept. 20 deadline to adopt a budget looming large, the question is, what took them so long?

One reason is the process itself; another factor is the politics involved in making tough choices.

The budget Farris initially proposed not only called for no cuts in spending; it actually projected a nearly 10 percent increase. The strategy proposed for meeting the $7.2 million funding deficit was to draw down the city’s reserves by 40 percent — a step that would cloud the city’s financial future.

But instead of looking at potential spending cuts, Farris proceeded to give the council presentations on potential revenue sources, including a tax increase and new fees.

All but a few council members balked at those options, and then the body sat through several weeks of detailed presentations on each city department before taking up the subject of cutbacks.

Council meetings dragged on well into the night, with several sessions lasting more than six hours each. As the budget deadline approached, weary council members were suffering from information overload.

But the council members’ indecision can’t be blamed solely on too many charts and graphs.

It became apparent over the course of the last few weeks that political considerations often outweighed common sense — especially in discussing a possible increase in the city’s property tax rate. By refusing to raise the preliminary rate, the council locked the city into a rate no higher than the current tax rate, cutting off a much-needed revenue source.

The same held true with the vote on transportation utility fees, which would have increased residents’ monthly water bills by $5.83, while adding nearly $5 million to the city’s coffers annually.

When cutbacks were proposed, several council members initially drew lines in the sand, though it was obvious significant spending cuts would be required in order to make ends meet.

At Tuesday’s meeting, it was apparent that most council members finally recognized the urgency of coming to a consensus on spending reductions, including a 2.5 percent funding cut across all departments, potentially saving the city about $2.39 million.

Council members Richard “Dick” Young, Shirley Fleming, Jim Kilpatrick and Gregory Johnson are to be commended for taking the lead on pushing for the spending reductions, as they are sorely needed. In fact, Johnson called for a 5 percent, across-the-board spending cut early in the budget process — a step that could have gone a long way toward addressing the shortfall.

However, even if the council adopts the proposed cuts Tuesday and the 2017 budget is brought into balance, it’s only a one-year fix.

Farris’ projections show that unless the city creates other revenue streams moving forward, the city will be forced to dip into its fund balance in progressively larger amounts through 2020.

Clearly, dealing with Killeen’s budget is going to be a multiyear challenge that will require significant changes in the way the city does business if it is to achieve financial solvency.

Certainly, a new city manager and a forensic audit will go a long way toward addressing deficiencies in the city’s financial management.

But Killeen also must have council members who are willing to ask the hard questions and make the difficult decisions required to keep spending in check — and do so all year long.

The city and its residents deserve no less.

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

(2) comments

Alvin
Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.
@Scot: Why do you say that 'How can an editor use such false choice cliché???' Do you remember the interim city manager saying 'it would be necessary for the city council to 'dip into the city's balance of funds by $10 million dollars, then it was 'you, the city council need to give me direction', then it was, when the council passed the KPD's requested funds for another massive budget increase to fund the KPD for 'another' large increase for automobile increase in inventory, and then, at the direction of councilman Kilpatrick, who for months sat in this council chamber making statements like 'I don't want to micromanage the city manager' and 'it is the responsibility of the city manager to plan for this city's budget', or words to that effect, then all of a sudden this same councilman came up with the suggestion that 'this council needed to hold the city's tax rate to no more than the current tax rate' and this was, to the best of my recollection followed by a second from councilman Rivera.
And as to your statements “making the sausage” which is so public because of Texas transparency rules, what transparency rules? This city management, in my personal opinion, goes overboard in shielding from the public from all matters of consequence, such as the recent rulings by the State of Texas Attorney General's office 'to shield/hide all of the financial records pertaining to Scot Cosper'. As a typical result, 'what is your definition of 'Transparency'? The issue of the then mayor Hancock and the $750,000 that went o the then city manager Green, which has not been made public yet. And the list goes on and on.
Now we come to the matter of 'The Audit'. Is this council going to 'vote' on proceeding with a vote, in this coming budget, to proceed with this forensic audit or will it be 'moved to a latter date after the vote on the budget'? I certainly hope this council will complete the former and not pontificate about it, again, and let the administrators of 'the city government' off again and we will be back to square one. All of this going to the council meetings only to told that 'the citizens' will only have 3 whole minutes to have their say on 'what direction this city is going to take in such matters as 'the water treatment plant which is slated to be located of Stillhouse Hollow, to the tune of $30 million dollars and is going to become a city budget item in the very near future, and which 'we still don't have an answer to the question of whether or not this city will have to be, 'on the hook' for implementation of this work as the city of Georgetown 'has the priority to water. And the list goes on and on.
One of the 3% who voted.

Scot

"It became apparent over the course of the last few weeks that political considerations often outweighed common sense "

How can an editor use such a false choice cliché??? You imply with this sentence that political considerations and "common sense" are mutually independent.

But the view I see is that the 7-week journey by the council actually considered the political implications (AKA the will of the people they represent") to come to conclusions that at this point seem to be the right solution for the problem today.

I've started to catch on to the flow of editorials...criticize, pontificate, and preach. But this was a tough challenge and the "making the sausage" which is so public because of Texas transparency rules, has resulted in a satisfactory (not perfect, but is there ever one for challenges like this ) solution that is better than the position the city was in 8 weeks a go.

I'd say pretty good process in 7 weeks that was relatively well adjudicated and argued across the council. Well done.

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