The Killeen City Council approved an ordinance creating a $1.6 million street maintenance fee that will seek to address the city’s ailing road infrastructure at its meeting Tuesday.
During a court vote in which Councilman Gregory Johnson complained the city was not allowing residents a chance at a public hearing on the item, the council followed the same 4-3 script from its workshop Dec. 4 to approve the fee.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kilpatrick and council members Shirley Fleming, Hugh “Butch” Menking, and Juan Rivera voted to approve the fee with minimal discussion. Johnson and council members Debbie Nash-King and Steve Harris voted against.
The approved ordinance came with four amendments to a previous version aimed at addressing resident and council concerns over how the fee would be spent and what the formal mechanism for review would be. According to Public Works Director David Olson, the four changes add language that:
Explicitly excludes new construction or expansion of existing infrastructure as qualified expenses for the fee.
Adds two annual audits of the fee program — one internal and one external — that would be performed on a roughly six-month basis.
Specifies that the fee would not be assessed on vacant property that does not generate traffic.
Specifies that the fee would be assessed on “utility bills” rather than “water-sewer bills.”
The fee, which will be assessed on resident and business water bills, will charge ratepayers for the estimated impact their home or business has on the city’s streets. For instance, a single-family home will be assessed $1.70 per month, while large supermarkets could be charged upwards of $167 per month, according to city estimates.
Revenue from the fee would be accounted for in a special revenue fund that would be separate from other funds, effectively raising a barrier between the fund and the city’s other operations.
The ordinance will immediately go into effect and the fee will show up on utility bills in July 2019 after a six-month implementation period, city staff said.
In a tense exchange with Mayor Jose Segarra, Johnson loudly decried the lack of a public hearing prior to the vote, accusing the city of quieting residents without a fair opportunity to address the council as a whole.
“This is a fee that they are going to pay, so I think it’s only fair for them to be able to speak,” he said. “It’s this type of stuff that I continue to talk about — I think it’s a slap in the face to the citizens.”
According to state law, the council is not required to hold a public hearing on certain ordinances, but the council is allowed to acknowledge resident comments during a meeting if they reach a consensus to do so.
Following the vote, Kilpatrick, who has been the face of the “pro-fee” bloc of council members over the last few months of debate, said the vote was a positive step forward to address the city’s ailing roads.
“It’s not about me, it’s about residents five years from now looking around and saying, ‘there are no more potholes,’” he said.
Fleming, who told residents during a District 1 advisory committee meeting Monday that the amendments to the ordinance were coming, said she thought the fee was the only logical way to address the deferred road maintenance backlog.
“I had no other choice,” she said. “These roads have to be fixed.”
Once the fee is implemented, the ordinance outlines that the $1.6 million raised per year would be combined with the $300,000 currently budgeted for street maintenance to hit the $1.9 million annual target established by an external road inventory study in 2013.
The fund would be used not only for road repairs, but also repairs to the city’s “transportation system,” which includes bridges and rights-of-way, the city said.
The funds can only be used for routine maintenance and not major capital improvement projects, such as those planned for Watercrest Road and Rancier Avenue.