How do you want the city to spend your tax money?

Should public safety be a top priority? What about programs and services? Where does roadwork and water and sewer infrastructure fall on the “wish list?”

Killeen residents have an opportunity to weigh in on these spending priorities when the City Council holds a public hearing on the proposed budget Tuesday.

The hearing will start at 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers, on the lower level of Killeen City Hall.

Residents should be gratified that the current budget proposal bears little resemblance to last year’s preliminary budget — which called for a 10 percent spending hike in the face of a projected $8 million shortfall.

By contrast, this year’s budget is balanced and calls for no new taxes or fees.

That’s the good news.

On the downside, the proposed budget calls for the elimination of 25 positions from the Killeen Police Department, a freeze on most street projects and cutbacks in several city recreation activities — including eliminating all morning activities at the Killeen Community Center.

With limited funding available, and with the city taking a $4 million hit from state-mandated tax exemptions for disabled veterans, it was inevitable that City Manager Ron Olson would have to identify some significant cost savings in order to balance the budget.

But funding priorities are largely subjective — and not everyone may agree on where the cutbacks should take place, or how large they should be.

That’s where Tuesday’s hearing comes in.

Should the city’s crime rate make police protection the top priority in the budget? Should the elimination of 22 vacant police positions and cuts to police and fire overtime be cause for concern?

Several residents said as much at Thursday’s KPD Community Forum, and indicated they would attend Tuesday’s budget hearing, especially after Chief Margaret Young noted that nine vacant patrol officer positions and one police captain slot will be cut as part of a department restructuring.

At the forum, Young cited figures showing that violent crime is up 19 percent from this time last year, and property crimes are up more than 10 percent during the same period.

Given these statistics, residents have reason to question whether trimming the police budget is the best way to achieve savings.

 On the other hand, public safety expenditures have been a major draw on the city budget, accounting for 65 percent of the general fund expenditures in the 2016-2017 budget.

Olson’s proposed cuts have reduced this bite to 60 percent of budget expenditures.

Still, even with the reductions, the city faces a $600,000 increase in police and fire salaries because Olson has committed to fund the 8 percent public safety “step” increases.

It could be argued that the 8 percent step increase, first authorized by the council in 2015 — when the money was not readily available — is what threw the city’s budget into a tailspin in the first place.

It’s also debatable how effective that annual raise has been in helping the city to retain police, fire and EMS personnel.

Nevertheless, it’s important that residents who agree with the proposed cuts and salaries — and those who don’t — voice their opinions at Tuesday’s meeting.

Of course, residents are likely to air their concerns about more issues than just public safety — and well they should.

Already getting a buzz are the proposed cutbacks to recreational activities, such as the elimination of lap-swim hours at the Lions Club Park Family Aquatic Center, as well as the continued closure of Pershing Park Pool and the elimination of half of the free classes offered to members at the Lions Club Park Family Recreation Center.

The city also needs about $40 million in road and street repairs, but funding is simply not there, and much of the work must be deferred.

The bottom line is that in order to balance the budget, money has to be found somewhere, and not everyone is going to be happy with the cutbacks chosen.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kilpatrick noted at Thursday’s KPD forum that fewer than 30 people showed up for the last three workshops at which the council reviewed the proposed budget.

That’s unfortunate, but those workshops didn’t afford residents a public comment period.

Still the low turnout is a sharp contrast from last year’s city budget and tax rate hearings, which drew standing-room-only crowds.

Last summer, residents were up in arms over the $8 million shortfall, as well as some of the proposals advanced to bridge the funding gap — including closing a library branch and cutting employee pay.

Neither of those options was chosen, as council members found other ways to bring expenditures and revenue into line — including across-the-board department cuts and slashing contributions to the city’s economic development corporation.

This year, residents may be under the impression that everything is fine and there is no urgency associated with the budget process.

This simply isn’t so. Just because the proposed budget is technically balanced doesn’t mean the city has a handle on expenses — especially looking down the road.

The city staff’s budget projections envision a $27.8 million deficit by 2037 if the current revenue and expenditure trends continue.

One-time developer impact fees and transportation utility fees — charged to the city’s utility ratepayers — are two potential revenue streams that have been discussed, but both have met with opposition, as have property tax increases.

Obviously, what cutbacks are identified and what new revenue sources are selected will be crucial to making ends meet.

As taxpayers stand to be impacted by these choices, it’s crucial that residents let city officials know how they want to proceed.

Tuesday’s meeting is an excellent starting point for that discussion. A second public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 12.

No doubt, residents are looking to the council and city manager to “fix the problem.” After all, that’s what they were elected, and hired, to do.

But residents also must recognize that they are a necessary part of the solution.

An important first step in that process begins this week.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

(2) comments

rickb54

Mr. Miller;

There you go again blaming disabled veterans for the budget woes of Killeen . I have come to the opinion that you are certainly anti-veteran. I have said it before but just to make sure you understand I'll say it again. Disabled Veterans exist because they are defending our great country. While you sit on your butt and whine about veterans tax exemptions, they are on foreign lands fighting bad guys and protecting your right to spew you disparaging remarks. Anyone can do your job, but there is no doubt you can't do theirs. Stop running your
" motor mouth" and start respecting our veterans. The fact is, if it were not for our military and great veterans Killeen would not even exist. I am so glad you only get one vote, and guess what the Texas Voters disagreed with you, and determined that disabled veterans need the exemptions. In fact, I would be willing to bet many veterans could not afford a home without these exemptions. Again stop whining about disable veterans exemptions. The city will survive all we have to do is live within the means of the taxes collected. Stop giving away free services at the community centers, and make the users pay for the services as they go. Too bad some pools are close, and others may have limited hours, there are more important things than pools. During WWII when my father went to war, everyone did their part from gas rations, to rubber and food rations. Today the public as a whole does nothing to support our boys... people who think like you would rather see this country overrun by bad guys than to thank our veterans. Shame on you

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

Copy: 'Should public safety be a top priority? What about programs and services? Where does roadwork and water and sewer infrastructure fall on the “wish list?” End of copy.

Well I'll tell that this city's new infrastructure is not in my desired effect for paying for somebody else's water program, and that this city is doing.

Copy: 'Still, even with the reductions, the city faces a $600,000 increase in police and fire salaries because Olson has committed to fund the 8 percent public safety “step” increases.' End of copy.

Why does this city find that they have a mandate for an 8 percent step increase when city services, such street repair for instance and street cleaning for another is reduced to almost nothing. In my opinion, they should institute a COLA program that sets the city's raises based on this type of program. That will sure shut down the massive raise structure and you can do that by basing the increase on what it is say the 1st of September of each and every year.
In regard to 'what is required from the police and fire department, I'll say it again, 'if this city is supposed to be growing at the rate that thru are saying, why do you build a new fire house in the Southern regions of this city and shut down a fire house in the Northern part of this city???? Think about that Mr. City planner. I do not think that there is any less of a fire department requirement than there was say 3 or 4 years ago. And now the police department requirement, 'by building the new police station out in the South 40 and relocating the police who was stationed in that station, what was the savings???? Again, what is the overall crime rate in the Northern part of this city that gave you the forethought that 'this was a good idea????

Copy: 'The city also needs about $40 million in road and street repairs, but funding is simply not there, and much of the work must be deferred.'
Continuation of copy: 'Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kilpatrick noted at Thursday’s KPD forum that fewer than 30 people showed up for the last three workshops at which the council reviewed the proposed budget.' End of copy.

Why is it imperative that the number of attendee's be so important as this city administrative structure is going to go with their basic game plan. I forecast that within the ext few weeks to the next few months this city administration is going to be hammering on this city council 'for more money because they will not have enough' so the game will start all over again.

Copy: 'The city also needs about $40 million in road and street repairs, but funding is simply not there, and much of the work must be deferred.'
Continuation of copy: 'The city staff’s budget projections envision a $27.8 million deficit by 2037 if the current revenue and expenditure trends continue.' End of copy.

Now what is the sense in cutting back on all of the city services just to already know that we need $40 million in street and road repair and is saying staff projections a current revenue and expenditure 'if the current trends continue. Then I say that it is already in the cards to 'kill this water project'. That would reduce our outlay by millions so that this city could 'take care of the wants and wishes of the city residents.
Copy: 'One-time developer impact fees and transportation utility fees — charged to the city’s utility ratepayers — are two potential revenue streams that have been discussed, but both have met with opposition, as have property tax increases.' End of copy.

Charged to this city's ratepayers. This is still given credit to the home buyers that live just south of the city line and which the citizens of this city will be forced into 'paying the freight for somebody else'.
Copy: 'But residents also must recognize that they are a necessary part of the solution.' But will this city's administrative group be compelled to see to it that the residents wishes are fulfilled or is this city's administrative group concede to submitting to these wishes???? I seriously doubt it, they, again are going to come back with increases in the budget and this will be in the next 2 weeks to 4 to 6 months. I can almost guarantee it.

This has been the personal opinion of this writer and nothing shall be used, in context or without or changed in any way without first notifying, and receiving explicit approval from this writer.
One of the 4.58 % who voted.

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