The Killeen City Council took a couple of significant steps at Tuesday’s meeting.
Unfortunately, one of them still leaves the city short of its stated goal.
The council is to be commended for making the long-overdue decision to outsource management of the city’s municipal golf course, Stonetree Golf Club, which had been hemorrhaging money for the past five years.
In turning the course over to the nationally established Billy Casper Golf at a cost of $90,000 per year, the city hopes to eliminate the golf course’s $318,000 annual loss and see it operating in the black within two years, as the management company has projected.
But the council other’s major action Tuesday — the purchasing of three recycling trailers at a cost of $60,000 — addresses a community need but doesn’t move the city any closer to achieving single-stream curbside recycling.
That’s not to say the recycling trailers won’t be a valuable resource.
According to city staff, the trailers could save a projected 420 tons of waste from going to the landfill — saving the city money both on transport and storage costs.
Killeen has two drop-off sites for recycling, after voluntary curbside pick-up was discontinued in 2016. The trailers will offer residents additional locations — tentatively identified as Lions Club Park and near the water tower on Clear Creek Road.
However, the elephant in the room is the lack of curbside recycling in the city — a service city officials have been talking about for the better part of a decade.
Just 11 months ago, council members trashed nearly two years of hard work when they voted 4-3, by consensus, to halt the potential outsourcing of the city’s solid waste service.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the three dissenting council members — Shirley Fleming, Steve Harris and Gregory Johnson — who never got a chance to have a full-scale discussion on the issue or digest the numbers regarding the prospective competing service providers.
To be fair, there were several obstacles to outsourcing, including a short amortization schedule on purchases of equipment and vehicles, as well as an obligation for the outside company to hire and retain former city workers for at least five years.
What is frustrating, however, is that most of the companies that had been in line to take on the solid waste service had proposed curbside recycling as part of their pitches to the city.
In addition, as proposed, the winning bidder would have been required to pay the city a 9 percent franchise fee, plus a portion of proceeds from the sale of recyclables, if recycling were part of the contract.
However, Killeen now has neither citywide curbside recycling nor the proceeds from any recyclables collected — and that’s unfortunate.
In rejecting the plan to outsource recycling, the four members of the council who nixed the plan last April — Debbie Nash-King, Jim Kilpatrick, Juan Rivera and Jonathan Okray — put their faith in city management and the Solid Waste Department to provide efficient trash service at the lowest possible rates for residential and commercial customers.
They had one significant reason for voting to keep the service in-house — the city frequently taps the solid waste fund for other expenditures. It pays for $1.6 million of city services annually, including $800,000 in mowing costs. The city would have to find that money elsewhere if the fund went away.
At the time the council made the decision not to outsource, city staff estimated Killeen could add curbside recycling at a cost of $3.58 to residents’ monthly trash bill.
And while City Manager Ron Olson’s efforts to streamline and improve the department’s operations have paid dividends — especially in terms of profitability — the fact remains that the city still hasn’t provided what has been promised to residents: curbside recycling at a reasonable rate.
The council’s decision to outsource golf course operations must be viewed in this context.
In addition to losing money, Stonetree was offering less to residents as the course went further into the red. In an effort to trim the deficit, the city had made cuts to food and beverage service and slashed other major positions, including the club pro. During this time, however, residents who played the course did not see a comparable cut in fees.
By turning over operation of the course to Billy Casper Golf — which manages 90 municipal courses across the country and 150 overall — the city is making a commitment to bring Stonetree back to being a premier, full-service facility that residents can be proud of.
The same commitment must be made to upgrade the city’s solid waste service.
It is unconscionable that a city of nearly 150,000 residents can’t or won’t offer full-scale, curbside recycling to its residents. Having such a service isn’t necessarily something the city should be proud of. But it is something the city — and those moving to our community — should expect.
Buying the new recycling trailers is definitely a step in the right direction.
But now it’s time to move farther down that path.