When the Killeen City Council held its second and final public hearing on the proposed city budget last week, seven residents stepped forward to speak.

And that was more than triple the number of residents who offered comments at the first hearing this year.

Given the fact that the city is on the cusp of approving the expenditure of more than $180 million in tax money for fiscal year 2017-2018, the low turnout at these hearings is more than unfortunate — it’s inexcusable.

The budget being proposed by City Manager Ron Olson is balanced and doesn’t include a property tax increase or increases in fees.

That may be one of the reasons residents haven’t flocked to the budget hearings, as they did last year, when the proposed budget initially projected an $8 million shortfall — a figure that raised public concern. Many residents may believe that the city has its financial house in order, so it’s best to just let the council handle the details.

However, that’s a simplistic view that overlooks the fact that the proposed budget calls for some difficult cutbacks in positions, programs and services.

Indeed, it is one of those proposed cuts — the elimination of two vacant positions in the city’s Animal Services division, along with a $30,000 reduction in supplies — that drew the seven speakers to Tuesday’s budget hearing. They argued that the cuts would would endanger the lives of animals in the Killeen Animal Shelter and compromise the stated 80 percent live release rate goal.

The residents’ passion was evident, and their comments were met with sympathetic responses from both Olson and Mayor Jose Segarra. However, in order to balance the budget, some cuts must be made — and some of those cuts are bound to be unpopular.

Still, with the exception of the outcry over the animal control cuts, little was heard from residents during the two hearings — despite a proposed budget that calls for cuts in several key areas.

The document that will go before the council for approval Tuesday 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 and doing away with lap-swim times at the city’s aquatics center.

Considering the city just recorded its 14th homicide of the year last week, the proposed cutbacks to the police department would seem to send mixed messages about the city’s commitment to public safety.

Given all these proposed cutbacks, residents should have been out in force to voice their opinions at the city’s public hearings.

But it didn’t happen.

There are a few possible explanations for the abysmal turnout at these hearings.

Perhaps residents are satisfied with the way city officials are setting spending priorities, or maybe they aren’t aware of what’s in the proposed budget. On the other hand, it’s possible that many residents simply don’t care to get involved, and others may feel their input wouldn’t make a difference.

Sadly, some of these same narratives may explain why voter turnout hasn’t topped 5 percent in the city’s last two municipal elections.

But on the heels of a $400,000 management audit that found significant deficiencies in the way the city handled its finances over a 12-year period, residents should be even more involved the city’s budget process — not less so.

Ideally, that involvement should start on the front end of the process. That means becoming familiar with the proposed budget as the process progresses, and speaking up if certain cuts or expenditures are deemed objectionable.

That’s what happened last year when the council considered closing one of the city’s libraries to save money — a discussion that drew a huge crowd of concerned residents. Ultimately, the council rejected the proposed closure, in part because of the public outcry.

But aside from seven residents’ concerns about the animal services budget, where was that public involvement this year?

Ideally, public participation in the budget process should be active and long-term.

Two Killeen residents — Bob Blair and Jack Ralston — stand out as examples of residents who see it as their responsibilty to get involved in the city’s governmental activities.

Ralston can be found at almost all council meetings, observing the discussion on each issue and taking notes. Both he and Blair are members of the city’s standing audit committee and are committed to keeping an eye on the city’s financial dealings.

The city needs more active residents as the budget waters get more treacherous in the future.

Olson is projecting significant deficits in coming years, including a $27.6 million revenue shortfall by 2037, given the city’s current spending and revenue trajectory. A lack of new revenue streams, combined with the city’s future infrastructure obligations threaten to put the city in a serious hole — and that’s something that will affect all residents.

Given that reality, budget cuts will take on even greater significance moving forward. More and more, the question won’t be whether cuts are necessary, but how many and how large.

How much can the city staff be trimmed and still function effectively?

How long can the city continue to pay managers and department heads six-figure salaries while reducing the size of the staffs they oversee?

How long can the city subsidize its airport without increasing ridership or identifying new funding sources?

Which road projects will be pushed to the back burner as competition for available funds grows?

At what point does outsourcing of trash pickup and ambulance service become a necessity rather than just an option?

These are all questions that may enter into future budget discussions — and they all impact residents at some level.

For this reason, Killeen residents owe it to themselves to get involved in the dialogue.

If we don’t speak up in budget meetings or at the ballot box, we lose our opportunity to shape the decisions that mold the future of our city.

It’s not too late to get involved, but we need to start now.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

(3) comments

eyewatchingu

Why would anyone want to come out? If you speak out, you get stalked, over 100 calls a day by people using phone apps to call you so it looks like someone's else number. ( yes I have been to the police about this) If you don't say or do what they want they sick the BLM, Naap, Phyllis Jones and many others on you. They terrorize you on facebook and so on. They steal anything you post or say and then claim they said it or did it. They will do anything to hold on to their positions even if they know its a lie. Not one of them will do research or even bother to actually listen to what the people say, unless they can make bank on it!
Yesterday, I watched a group of Dreamers over take Nancy Pelosi forum and turn on her and the democrat party calling them lairs and much more. I watched it live. When the citizens in Killeen wake up, from all this fake news , and all these stories that are to distract the people, so the city democrats across the country can undermined the system and bled the system dry, so they can make it all look like its someone else's fault, in hopes of being re-elected. Just remember the Mayor seat is coming up, Patsy Bracey is going to run. If you vote her in, the city is going to fail. We have way to many with an all one color agenda and that is why a lot of people are afraid to come out and vote, they fear of being harmed if they vote differently. They fear of being labeled, stalked and eventually getting fired from their jobs, because most cant afford to stand up and say beep you.
Most even fear going to city council meetings and so on because if they speak against certain members, those members will use Jones and her Hench men to destroy you.

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

@OldWoman: 'Seems like you don't have the gumption to fight for this city referring to 'just let them have it'.

Copy: 'The budget being proposed by City Manager Ron Olson is balanced and doesn’t include a property tax increase or increases in fees.' End of copy.

Look at what this budget is being built on, a lot of front money to start and then, as with all of the other budgets that have prepared in the last few years, extra's that will account for millions of dollars.

This will include the 8 percent step increase for our civil servants. To me that is a crock. When did you see an 8 percent COL???? Me neither.

Cop: 'Olson is projecting significant deficits in coming years, including a $27.6 million revenue shortfall by 2037, given the city’s current spending and revenue trajectory. A lack of new revenue streams, combined with the city’s future infrastructure obligations threaten to put the city in a serious hole — and that’s something that will affect all residents.' End of copy.

Yes that is a fact. You can't keep overspending what you don't have, so increases in revenue are a fact of life, so you can sit still like the citizens of thes city have been doing for a number of years, move out of this city, or 'stand up and be counted'. It's up to you.

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.

OldWoman

Excellent article, Dave. As for the apathy ... does it really matter what we, the residents want? No. The council and city will do whatever they please. Looking at north-east Killeen, the citizens (back then) petitioned against, and voted down and objected to the following:
Apartments, Juvenile Detention facility, Mickey's convenience store (We weren't even asked about the Family Dollar (Dollar general, whatever) next to the unwanted Mickeys.) We did not want them, and got them anyway. So why should we get involved anymore. We are wasting time that would be better spent looking for a new home outside of Killeen city limits.

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