After five months of effort and what amounts to days of long, exhausting deliberation, Killeen now has a budget for the coming fiscal year.
Passed in a motion of 6 to 1 with Councilwoman Mellisa Brown in opposition, the $268 million budget — the largest in the city’s history — was officially approved Tuesday.
The budget, fueled by more than $29 million in federal relief money, includes over 90 new capital improvement projects addressing street maintenance and park improvements.
“I want to thank everyone on the City Council for their effort in putting together this budget,” Mayor Jose Segarra said Tuesday. “Staff has done an outstanding job.”
Segarra congratulated the City Council on their willingness to deliberate and pass a comprehensive budget, saying “I take no credit for that.”
“I think one of the toughest things that you can do is say yes,” Segarra said. “And I think that after years of kicking it down the road, we finally crushed that can.”
Over 20 members of the members of the community attended the budget hearing, with five speaking.
Several residents thanked the council for addressing several key issues, such as nonprofit assistance and road repairs. However, some residents weren’t fully convinced.
Residents Holly Teel and Michael Fornino said that money would have been better spent toward law enforcement and addressing gang violence, while another resident raised concerns regarding water rate increases, citing disproportionate impact against larger families.
The hearing’s final speaker, John Miller, said that the council did “a great job” but requested that funding be allocated towards side streets and neighborhood roads, and that the city craft fiscal policies that may peel businesses away from Austin.
Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King and Councilwoman Brown assured residents that the council is working with residents’ interests in mind.
“I assure you that we will negotiate with these stores to ensure the highest quality of life for residents,” Nash-King said.
Brown spoke similarly, while acknowledging the difficulty in attracting large stores such as Aldi or H-E-B to the area.
“It’s a really difficult process to get these stores to the table and to get them to agree to come here,” she said. “You have to have something that they want.”
The City Council approved a modification to the tax rate, dropping it from the current 73.30 cents per $100 valuation to 70.04. Of that tax rate. 51.19 cents will be used for operations and maintenance through the general fund, while the other 18.85 cents will be deferred towards debt service. According to Locke, however, property owners will still pay approximately 4.33% more in taxes, as the adopted rate is still higher than the no new revenue rate.
In a rare moment of harmony, the council passed the new tax rate unanimously.
One of the hot-button issues of the budget cycle, a $10 street maintenance fee, was approved in a vote of 6 to 1 with Brown in opposition. The fee, which began as a $5.30 increase from the previous $1.70, grew to $10 after a motion of direction was made at a council workshop in late August. City council members in support of the larger fee have cited a need to tackle increasingly dire street conditions.
However, Brown argued that current wording within the street maintenance fee was vague, and would allow the city to reallocate funding away from the specific target it was established for: streets.
“The way I read it, there is nothing stopping a future council from classifying trails or an entirely separate sidewalk as being part of a street repair,” Brown said.
Assistant City Manager Danielle Singh assured Brown that sidewalk repairs could only be funded through the street maintenance fee so long as they would be damaged in the reconstruction of a particular street. Singh cited scheduled improvements to Bunny Trail, pointing out that particular project would allow for its sidewalks to be reconstructed as well. The ordinance would not, however, allow for a new sidewalk to be built using street maintenance funds, according to Singh.
Extending an olive branch, Councilman Michael Boyd amended the motion to approve the street maintenance fee to specify only existing sidewalks eligible for repair, but Brown was not convinced.
The City Council ultimately passed the measure, as well as Boyd’s amendment.
The City Council approved a measure to increase the water and sewer rate, as well as commercial solid waste rates for the 2022 fiscal year.
Proposed in early July by Executive Director of Finance Jonathan Locke, the measure seeks to bring Killeen in parity with like cities, while addressing maintenance needs and encouraging eco-friendly practices.
Water and sewer rates will increase by a median of 36 cents, with those using 2,000 gallons of water a month experiencing an increase of 21 cents per gallon and those using 30,000 gallons as much as $1.03 per gallon. The average user — defined by the city as a resident that uses 5,000 gallons a month — will pay $1.47 more per month, for a total fee of around $50.54 a month for both water and wastewater.
Speaking to directly to the issue, City Manager Kent Cagle said that excessive water use over 30,000 gallons is a result of outdoor water use. Similarly, Councilman Rick Williams said that high outdoor water volumes are a luxury.
“Most people, myself included, I don’t see reaching the upper limit. If I want to experience the privilege of having a pool or keeping my yard green in August, then that’s okay. But I need to accept the cost of using that extra resource,” Williams said, quipping that “Things might be different if we weren’t sending out boil water notices twice a week.”
Jeff Reynolds, executive director of Public Works, advised the council that increased revenue is necessary. Deferring maintenance, he said, will result in a much larger issue down the road.
Brown argued that it would be possible to phase in rate increases over several years, but the City Council did not adopt her proposal.
Council eventually moved to pass the rate increase in a vote of 6 to 1, with Brown in opposition.
An 8% commercial solid waste rate increase of $6.30 for 2 cubic yard containers was also passed 6 to 1, with Brown in opposition.
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