Killeen will need additional revenue over the next 10 years to meet crucial infrastructure needs.
The question is, where is the city going to get it?
At last week’s workshop, the City Council did an about-face on a plan to implement developer impact fees, putting a halt to the schedule it approved last summer.
The key to the change of heart was Councilwoman Shirley Fleming, who switched sides to oppose the plan in Tuesday’s 4-3 consensus vote.
The original council plan would have resulted in one-time charges added to building permits, varying by geographic zone, to fund capital improvement projects such as road upgrades and sewer line improvements.
The decision to move away from implementation of impact fees could have a major financial impact on the city.
A 2015 study by Kimley-Horn & Associates projected that over a 10-year span, the fees could recover $27.5 million for road projects and $13 million for water and wastewater improvements.
Now the city is going to have to look elsewhere for that funding.
Mayor Jose Segarra, a proponent of the impact fees, noted the city faces about $17 million in infrastructure needs, and that number could balloon to $40 million if no action is taken to address the problem.
While opponents of impact fees have some valid concerns about their negative effect on growth and the passed-on costs to residents, they can ill afford to ignore the need to boost the city’s revenue.
Last year, council members rejected the option of a property tax increase early in the budget process, effectively tying their own hands as they tried to reconcile a projected multimillion-dollar shortfall.
Council members also said no to a proposal for transportation utility fees, which would have been tacked on to residents’ utility bills and would have helped to fund road improvements.
Already this year, some council members have warned they won’t support a tax hike, and that they will oppose increasing fees as well.
It’s fine to stand on principle, but there comes a time when compromise is needed.
Last year the council did a good job of working together to make the necessary spending cuts to bridge much of the funding gap in the 2017 budget.
This year, the council and former interim City Manager Dennis Baldwin identified $5 million in cost savings and deferred spending to push the proposed budget for 2018 into the black.
However, last week, council members considered two new staff positions — a deputy city marshal and a grants coordinator — with one job funded by changes in fuel cost projections.
It’s that kind of gimmicky budgeting — counting on money not yet in hand — that caused the city’s finances to go sideways in the first place. Killeen’s new city manager, Ron Olson, rightly expressed skepticism about the proposal.
Moving money from ratepayer-funded enterprise funds to the general fund to boost the city’s bond rating — as was done late last year — is not a long-term solution to ensure financial health. Neither is deferring necessary expenditures, such as replacement of city vehicles, as agreed to during the 2017 budget process.
Killeen is a growing city with increasingly urgent infrastructure needs — particularly in the city’s older areas. Focusing solely on cutting costs and reducing expenditures will not free up enough money to meet those needs, long term.
Councilman Jonathan Okray implied that the upcoming city election may have been a factor in Fleming’s decision to change her vote on impact fees.
While voters’ concerns and a commitment to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars are legitimate reasons to oppose additional taxes and fees, these must be weighed against the commitment to provide the quality infrastructure, programs and services the city’s residents deserve.
Granted, it’s a difficult balance.
But council members can’t continue to look the other way while the city’s infrastructure crumbles.
They must take concrete steps to address the problem — and find the revenue to rectify it.