It’s hard to pay your bills when you don’t know what your expenses are.
That’s the situation in which Killeen City Council members find themselves as interim City Manager Ann Farris continues to give presentations on options for potential revenue sources for the upcoming fiscal year.
Certainly, that’s half the equation.
But with time running short to adopt a municipal budget and tax rate, council members still haven’t been given a list of city expenditures — though many have asked for it.
In addition, several council members have asked for an updated fund balance, but have yet to receive an answer.
As a result, the council still has no clear idea how the city’s funds are obligated, or how much money they currently have to work with — more than two weeks after Farris informed the council they would need to find $8 million to make ends meet in the upcoming budget.
One frustrated council member last week told the Herald that Farris’ handling of the process looks like “a stall.”
Indeed, Farris’ lack of responsiveness to council members’ requests for budget information suggests either departmental disorganization or an unwillingness to cooperate.
On Tuesday, Farris told council members that they would receive a presentation on the city’s enterprise funds at this week’s meeting — which is essential to understanding the overall budget, especially since several questions have been raised about transfers involving those funds.
Farris also advised council members it would be another four to five weeks before they would be in a position to make final recommendations on balancing the budget.
At the current rate, the council wouldn’t even begin serious discussions about revenue and expenditure options until mid- to late August.
Obviously, the council has a lot to digest, and it’s imperative that members have all the information necessary before raising taxes and fees or considering cuts in staffing, programs and services.
But Farris’ piecemeal approach to tackling the budget is having the effect of prolonging the process and forcing council members to make difficult decisions in a condensed time frame.
If the council decides a tax increase above the 8 percent rollback rate is to be part of the budget solution, the city has only until Aug. 22 to get it placed on the November ballot. That’s only five weeks away. Further, a public hearing on the budget is set for Aug. 23, if the council calls for a tax increase.
A regular public hearing is planned for Sept. 6, with the council adopting both the tax rate and budget by Sept. 13. The council can’t afford to be making last-minute adjustments as the adoption date looms.
In addition to Farris’ time-consuming approach to presenting budget options, the council’s agenda has been cluttered with too many unrelated discussion items of late — eating up valuable time that should be spent on sorting out the city’s troubled finances.
Last week, council members slogged through two meetings totaling six hours — featuring a consultant’s presentation on potential impact fees — and more long sessions are likely in store if Farris’ detailed tutorials are part of the mix.
This week, the council is facing a 21-item agenda, after which members are scheduled to receive Farris’ proposed budget plan — a full two weeks after the city’s budget calendar called for it to be presented.
As Farris is former longtime educator, it’s laudable that she would want council members to understand all aspects of the budget process before they make any consequential decisions.
But Killeen City Hall is not a high school or college classroom.
Farris should let the council digest the proposed budget, quickly offer options and recommendations — and then schedule workshops to iron out the final budget plan.
Stringing this process out any longer is something that neither the council nor the city’s taxpayers can afford.