Today marks the dawn of a new year, the date traditionally associated with fresh starts and new beginnings.
But for Killeen’s elected officials, the arrival of the new year brings a reminder of the city’s unfinished business from 2016.
Chief among those tasks are the hiring of a new city manager, the completion of a forensic audit of the city’s finances and the development of a viable, responsible city budget for the next fiscal year.
But the list doesn’t end there.
The City Council must follow through on a proposal to outsource the city’s trash service, develop an ordinance governing ride-hailing companies serving the city and enact a plan to streamline the city’s workforce.
Before the year is out, the council also must address existing water and sewer infrastructure issues in the northern part of Killeen. Many of the pipes under the older areas of the city contain lead and asbestos and need to be replaced, but the council has to agree on a plan to address the issue — and find the money to do it.
Finding money is also likely to be a problem when it comes to unfinished road projects — especially the $8 million extension of Rosewood Drive to Chaparral Road. The city has $5 million in federal funding available for the project through the Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization, but that money goes away in October unless the city can come up with more than $2.7 million in matching money plus the cost of an engineering study. The city passed on the money in 2015, but it can ill afford to do so again if the project is to be completed in the near future.
With so many outstanding issues and challenges facing the city, it’s imperative that the council make the hiring of a qualified, experienced city manager a top priority, especially since the city has lacked continuity in the post for the last nine months.
This time last year, Glenn Morrison was serving in the role, but he retired in April amid questions about the city’s financial health and issues with transparency, leaving the city without a top administrator.
Assistant City Manager Ann Farris was given the job on an interim basis, but after a difficult budget process in which she initially proposed drawing down the city’s reserve fund by more than $7 million to cover a projected shortfall, the council removed her from the position, replacing her with Police Chief Dennis Baldwin in October.
Baldwin’s tenure was expected to be short-lived, but the city’s top choice for a permanent city manager withdrew from consideration over compensation issues in early November.
While Baldwin has pushed beneficial changes in the city’s organization and operations, he also proposed moving money from the Water and Sewer emergency fund to bolster the city’s general fund.
Ultimately, it’s important for the council to bring in an outsider with city management experience to provide strong, impartial guidance to the forensic audit process, bring leadership to development of the next budget and prioritize the projects the city needs to move forward.
That said, not all of the city’s priorities will be generated from within. Some of the city’s changes in 2017 will be dictated from Austin.
The upcoming session of the Texas Legislature may produce legislation governing water rights, school funding, property appraisals, red-light traffic cameras or texting while driving.
How Killeen’s new state representative, Scott Cosper, and senator, Dawn Buckingham, vote on these and other issues will be instructive.
And with a new presidential administration taking office this month, it’s hard to say what effect all the changes in Washington may bring to Central Texas — though there are sure to be several.
Many Killeen-area residents are no doubt ready to turn the calendar to 2017, and for good reason. In many ways, 2016 was a difficult year.
But we can’t afford to leave last year’s concerns behind.