There’s little doubt that Killeen would benefit from a comprehensive plan to guide its future growth.
But now is hardly the right time for the city to spend $349,000 to start developing one — especially since it already has a plan in place that is supposed to last another 10 years.
With the future impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s economy still unknown, it’s virtually impossible to say with any certainty what Killeen will look like 10 months from now, much less than 10 years down the road.
Still, six of Killeen’s seven city council members voted last week to give more than a third of a million dollars to a Dallas-based consultant to develop another long-range planning document for the city.
That’s not to say that such a document doesn’t have some value, but the city spent more than $260,000 on the 2010 comprehensive plan and doesn’t have much to show for it.
The last document called for establishing three new parks. To date, the city has one new one, in southeast Killeen, thanks to a donation of 90 acres of land by the Gary W. Purser Jr. family.
The 2010 plan called for more green space in developments and working with the Killeen school district to acquire park land. Neither of those initiatives have materialized.
The last plan also called for more public swimming pools, noting that the two existing pools were inadequate to meet the city’s needs. But even though the city has grown by more than 50,000 residents in the last decade, no new pools have been built since 2009, with the opening of the Lions Park Aquatics Center.
The upshot is that the city has paid more than $600,000 in 10 years to establish goals and guidelines for maximizing the potential of the city’s future growth — but many of those goals and guidelines have fallen by the wayside.
One problem is the reality of city resources. It’s nice to have a wish list of items that will enhance the city’s quality of life and improve its aesthetic appeal, but the money to accomplish these projects is far from guaranteed.
Certainly, the city has lacked direction in its growth priorities and development patterns over the last decade, but the current plan is not the problem. A master plan has little value if the city’s decision makers pick and choose when and if to use it when approving residential and commercial developments.
Part of the lack of consistency is due to the changeover in city management. Since 2010, the city has had four city managers, including the current top executive, Kent Cagle. Moreover, the city has had several changes in the makeup of the city council, with three new members elected just this month.
Several council members contend that the 2010 is outdated and in need of revision, and that is likely the case considering the city’s rate of growth and changing budget realities.
The previous city manager, Ken Olsen, added a senior planner to the budget in 2017 in an effort to update the existing plan internally, but that effort was abandoned the following year.
So, now the new city manager has decided a new comprehensive plan is in order. The previous city council gave direction to move forward with the initiative in February, and it was subsequently included in the FY 2020-21 budget.
But let’s take a step back here.
Even though the money for a new master plan was included in the FY 2020-21 budget, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic should have dictated that moving ahead with the plan be put on hold.
Instead, the plan was proposed Tuesday in a polished, high-energy presentation by the owner of Verdunity Inc., the company chosen to the produce the document.
At the very least, the plan should have been presented in a workshop session, with a full vote scheduled at a later council meeting.
But the plan was both presented and voted on at the same meeting. As a result, council members didn’t have the opportunity to reflect on the proposal and talk to their constituents over a period of days.
Now it’s a done deal, with $349,000 committed over a 15-month period.
With rising crime a major concern among many Killeen residents, it’s fair to ask whether the money committed to the comprehensive plan couldn’t have been better spent on hiring and keeping police officers and other KPD personnel.
It’s also fair to ask why Cagle had no qualms about presenting a budget that included $349,000 for the master plan initiative but reduced the Killeen Arts Commission funding to $0, from last year’s total of more than $268,000 — even with a decline in the city’s hotel/motel tax revenue.
With the Killeen Food Care Center reporting a record year as far as the number of needy in our community requesting assistance, spending more than $300,000 on a master plan seems a bit tone deaf.
Certainly, there are some good things that can come out of a new master plan.
Residents will have an opportunity to give their input on what amenities they would like to see in their city, and how they would like its future growth to look like.
And no doubt, as Mayor Jose Segarra expressed, it’s necessary to have an outside perspective regarding the city’s problem areas and possible solutions — especially from a company that has experience working with other cities in this area.
But the bottom line comes down to need — and embarking on this project is not something the city must do right away.
The city needs to reduce its crime rate.
The city needs to repair its aging roads and sewer systems.
The city needs to address the issue of homelessness within its boundaries.
The city needs to provide more programs and services for its youth and seniors.
No doubt, there are several other pressing needs that could be added to the list. But an up-to-date master plan is likely not one of them.
Like so many other fast-growing cities of its size, Killeen has an ever-increasing demand on its physical and financial resources. In one regard, that demand makes an updated, workable master plan a necessity, but its cost — at a time when the city could be facing a turbulent short-term economic future — makes it expendable, at least for now.
At the very least, Killeen council members should have tabled action on the master plan until spring, when the city’s economic picture could be brought into sharper focus.
Going forward with the plan now — despite the cost and in the face of other pressing needs — shows questionable judgment on the part of those who voted “yes” on the project.
No doubt, our elected leaders wanted to do what’s best for the community, especially when it comes to giving residents a say in their city’s future. In their view, establishing a new master plan was just the right thing to do.
Hopefully, history will prove them correct.
But doing the right thing doesn’t always mean doing it right now.