KILLEEN - In the midst of trying to fill a nearly six million dollar hole in its budget, the City of Killeen held a public hearing Tuesday night.
An auditorium's worth of concerned citizens packed the City Council chambers, offering feedback for roughly an hour and a half. Some slammed six-figure salaries for city employees, while others suggested fiscally responsible solutions to the shortfall. Several suggested an independent forensic audit that would investigate how Killeen reached this point.
"Residents are concerned," longtime Killeen resident Araceli Cook, who attended the public hearing said. "They're concerned about where the money went."
Killeen's 2017 fiscal calendar runs from October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017. The proposed fiscal 2017 budget would spend $5.8 million more than it generates in revenue. Mayor Jose Segarra blamed the city's growing population, which has increased at a greater rate than property values.
At a budget workshop Tuesday afternoon, council members considered possible cuts including slashing 50 percent of funding to Killeen's Economic Development Corporation, which boosts the city's economy by giving businesses incentives to go there.
"The citizens will just have to see if that's enough cut because when you cut too much then you're going to have to start sacrificing services," Mayor Segarra said.
Segarra said the city already planned to cut some salaries and would not offer raises to employees. Community members offered their own solutions, including trimming travel costs and getting more miles out of city vehicles before they are replaced.
"We are spending money in certain places that I think we can bring back in," Sandra Johnson, who attended the meeting, said.
Former Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin, a local lawyer, said upset residents were not seeing the whole picture. He spoke near the start of the hearing and defended his administration's financial record, in addition to saying economic circumstances contributed far more to the city's financial struggle than anything council members had done.
During the hearing, city leaders clarified earlier statements about a tax hike. City Spokeswoman Hilary Shine said there would not be a tax rate increase in 2017. She said the rate was $0.7498 cents per $100 of taxable value this year, and that rate would not change next year.
"State law says that it's a tax increase if the same rate raises more revenue," Shine explained. "The city has grown, so when you apply the current rate, it brings in more money."
Segarra said council would continue to look for ways to reduce the discrepancy between the city's revenue and its spending plan. A vote on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 13.
You can read the entire budget here.
(© 2016 KCEN)