• December 22, 2014

Killeen city budget has no tax hike, but no big projects, either

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Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2013 4:30 am

Killeen’s proposed fiscal year 2013-2014 municipal budget is as notable for what’s not in it as for what is.

The 368-page document, presented to the mayor and Killeen City Council last week by City Manager Glenn Morrison, contains no property tax increase and no rate increases for water, sewer, drainage or solid waste.

In fact, the $235.9 million draft budget calls for expenditures totalling $8 million less than this year’s, thanks to debt retirement and debt refinancing.

That’s despite the proposed creation of 23 positions within the city at a cost of $1.6 million. Those positions include an executive director of community services, a criminal investigator and two code enforcement officers, as well as an event coordinator for the Killeen Arts & Activities Center.

But the proposed budget also calls for no new capital improvement projects — despite recent council discussion of several major initiatives.

One of the initiatives not included in the budget plan is the $8.4 million Trimmier Road widening project.

In late March, the council unanimously approved a contract to re-engineer the intersection of Trimmier and U.S. Highway 190, one of the most congested in the city.

Design is underway for the five-phase project that would add a middle turn lane to Trimmier and add a new relief road at the intersection, but delaying actual construction seems to be a questionable strategy. With the Texas Department of Transportation already working on the U.S. 190 widening project, the city could benefit from potential low-cost bids from contractors already working in the area, as was noted at the March council meeting.

While pushing the Trimmier project back might save motorists a bit of inconvenience in the short term, it could cause headaches as well. The addition of a CVS Pharmacy now under construction at the intersection’s southeast corner is bound to draw traffic, and until the proposed adjacent relief road is built, congestion is bound to increase.

Another project not included in the budget draft is the construction of Fire Station No. 9 on Bunny Trail, which carries a $5 million price tag. That’s not including the cost of equipment and staffing. While the southwestern area of the city is adequately served by the existing fire stations, building the new station sooner rather than later likely would save the city money in material and labor costs.

Also not in the budget draft is the startup of a citywide curbside recycling program. While Morrison said he is enthusiastic about such an initiative, residents likely won’t see it come to fruition in the coming months. Council members last month generally favored moving toward a citywide program, but a great number of details remain to be ironed out. And whereas the $4.6 million program would not require a tax increase, it would necessitate a $2.50 hike in monthly solid waste rates.

Of course, council members could vote to add one or more of these programs to the budget — or any others they might propose — before its adoption in September.

It’s happened before. In 2010, then-City Manager Connie Green proposed a budget that kept the city’s tax rate unchanged, as it had been since 2004. However, at an August meeting, council members voted to raise the tax rate by more than 4 cents to fund a $30 million bond package for the construction of four major road projects. Improvements to those roads — Stagecoach Road, Elms Road, Cunningham Road and Bunny Trail — have facilitated growth in the city’s developing areas.

In his letter to the mayor and council accompanying the draft budget, Morrison noted that one of the plan’s goals is to maintain fiscal soundness within the current tax rate.

Indeed, the budget projects a fund balance of more than 26 percent of the city’s general revenue fund — a healthy figure. In addition, the current tax rate will yield a 7.3 percent increase in property tax revenue over the previous year. That translates to more than $2.4 million, almost $1.4 million of which will come from new property added to the city’s tax roll. The draft budget also projects a 3 percent rate of growth in sales tax revenue.

Still, despite the generally positive outlook, it’s a fairly conservative budget, with no market-based pay increases for city employees and few new significant purchases other than city fleet vehicles.

Overall, a cautious approach to spending is a wise one. A strong fund balance and conservative spending will help ensure the city’s continued financial health and excellent bond rating.

Yet, it’s important to be proactive on needed projects, especially in a city that’s adding about 2,600 new residents to its population each year.

Having a healthy bottom line is a great thing — but it’s not the only thing.

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