Though it was an underwhelming turnout, Killeen residents got their first chance to voice concerns at the first of two public budget hearings Wednesday.
Executive Director of Finance Jon Locke officially introduced the $244 million fiscal year 2022 budget before a handful of residents in attendance.
The City Council did not meet quorum, but Councilmembers Michael Boyd, Mellisa Brown, and Jessica Gonzalez were present at the outset of the hearing, as was Mayor Jose Segarra and Mayor Pro Tem Nash-King.
Nash-King left shortly after the hearing began, while Boyd and Brown stayed for the entire hearing.
Approximately 21 people in all, including city staff and public officials, were in attendance, Only three residents attended.
During the meeting, Killeen resident Darryl Messeh spoke up regarding the city’s prioritization of street maintenance.
“I just want to know how the city chooses which streets to work on, what’s most important,” Messeh said.
Assistant City Manager Danielle Singh did not answer the question directly, but replied that the city is planning on placing street maintenance as a special item on a future agenda.
“We don’t have an exact date planned out, but we will have an opportunity to specifically discuss street maintenance in the near future,” Singh said.
Locke was also asked about principal payments in the 2019 and 2020 Street Maintenance Fund’s debt service.
Locke stipulated that those payments were for leases to use street maintenance equipment, and further explained that those leases were moved to another fund in 2021, which is why they do not appear in the 2021 adopted or estimated budgets.
The only other expense listed under the Street Maintenance Fund’s debt service is $828,071 for a proposed $60 million bond issue to help pay for road reconstruction.
As Locke moved through the budget, he was challenged by Killeen resident Leo Gukeisen regarding the proposed multifamily rental inspection program, which will have a dedicated workshop on Aug. 3.
“Why should we create a new program, with new costs, that’s gonna get added to the budget every year, when we have the manpower to include this program under the fire or police or code enforcement?” Gukeisen asked.
City Manager Kent Cagle responded to Gukeisen by saying that Killeen’s staff most likely did not have the work capacity to add the program to existing departments.
“We don’t want to pull firemen off their trucks, and the police might not have the capacity,” Cagle said.
Gukeisen responded that the police or fire departments could simply use the $400,000 recurring fee to employ more police or fire officers who would be specialized in inspection.
After the meeting, Gukeisen pointed out that the police department has a division that helps Killeen’s homeless population, which Gukeisen says more or less makes his point.
Gukeisen also asked for clarification regarding the disabled veterans property tax exemption, which the city estimates is responsible for approximately $8.5 million in lost revenue annually.
“In all the publications, the city only talks about the disabled veterans exemption, which is reimbursed by the state. Why doesn’t the city list the other exemptions?” Guneisen asked.
According to Locke, the city loses a total of $15 million in exempted property taxes, $8.5 million of which is made up of the disabled veterans exemption property tax and approximately 55% of exempted property.
However, Guneisen argued, the city rarely mentions other exemptions and often fails to state that $3 million of the total amount lost by the disabled veterans exemption as adjusted by state reimbursement.
Former Councilman Jonathan Okray asked two questions before he left the meeting.
“Why was the budget released when it was?” he asked. “There was no quorum on the 6th to officially receive the budget, so why did the budget come out when it did?” Okray said.
According to Locke, the budget was released to the public in accordance with city ordinances on July 7 after being emailed to the council on July 6.
Okray also asked about library copying fees.
“Why does it cost 10 cents to print a copy? Is that arbitrary?” Okray said.
Singh responded, saying the cost to print and photocopy is based on the cost of equipment and supplies such as paper and ink.
The proposed budget may be found online at https://www.killeentexas.gov/417/Budget.
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