The Kennedale City Council is considering furloughs, raising property taxes, outsourcing ambulance service and closing the library to balance the 2021 budget.
During a work session Tuesday, the council wrestled with how to balance the proposed $7.2 million operating budget, which includes a proposed property tax increase of 4 cents, to 77 cents per $100 of assessed value. The increase would cost the owner of a $250,000 an extra $100.
The proposal also calls for the city to take $452,000 from its reserves, bringing the fund below the recommended 15 to 20% amount, city manager George Campbell said.
Campbell said he is concerned because Kennedale won’t have enough reserves on hand for emergencies if the funds are withdrawn.
Two years ago, the council lowered the property tax rate and adopted a budget that included pay increases, which meant drawing from the reserve fund balance, Campbell said. The city brought employees’ salaries up to 80% of the market rate which “exacerbated the problem,” he said.
“We’re being straightforward. It’s just an incredible challenge that is the result of decisions from the past several years and the reluctance to raise the tax rate,” he said.
Although council members won’t vote to adopt the budget and tax rate until Sept. 15, they are looking at unpleasant possibilities, mayor Brian Johnson said in an interview.
“It’s up to the council to make these decisions,” he said. “Their job is to look after the financial health of the city. They have two ways to do it, slash programs, raise taxes or a combination of both.”
Employees would be furloughed one day a week under one proposal. When asked about furloughs, Johnson said: “We’ve asked our employees to do many things and to wear many hats. In my opinion, to ask them to take pay cuts and furloughs is ruthless.”
During the work session councilwoman Linda Rhodes said she has no intention of furloughing employees one day a week but would rather look at other options such as adding a holiday the city currently doesn’t take.
Campbell said that furloughing employees one day per week would mean a 20% pay cut, and some employees would leave because of that.
Councilman Chris Pugh suggested closing the library to cut costs.
But mayor pro tem Sandra Lee said making that move would have a detrimental effect.
“My kids can’t afford not to have a library. We are already behind because of COVID-19,” she said.
Pugh said, “Sandra, do you not want us to have policemen?”
Lee said she does not want to lose police and fire.
Campbell told the council that Kennedale is also a member of a consortium with Mansfield and Arlington, so Kennedale residents can get books and other services.
“We are the smallest city in that consortium,” he said.
Campbell said if the library closes, it could mean losing accreditation from the state and grant funding.
The council also discussed outsourcing ambulance service, but there are risks associated with doing that, he said.
In the meantime, Johnson said the council needs to think about the long-term future of Kennedale.
“What kind of a city are you without a library, a community center. What kind of a city are you with bare bones police and fire? We’re paying for decisions from two years ago,” Johnson said.
Reported in the Star Telegram Newspaper August 21, 2020