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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Councilman Josh Altom’s Letter To Kennedale – Budget Crisis

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To The Citizens of Kennedale,

When I decided to run for city council, I never imagined the decisions that come with this responsibility would be so challenging. I didn’t particularly care for the direction the city was heading and felt I could make a big difference. One of my top priority is to be as transparent as possible. I think I do a pretty good job at being honest, making good decisions for you, and getting the correct information out as fast as I can.

I, like many other citizens, imagine Kennedale as a vibrant growing city that has that old town feel yet will hopefully be able to provide the services of a larger city. Revenue is the key elements to a city’s success and Kennedale’s budget is around seven million give or take. Property tax makes up for about eighty five percent of that, Sales tax makes up about ten percent and services such as permits, fees, and investments make up the last five percent. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves in a financial crisis and our revenue stream isn’t accommodating our needs. Reserves are dwindling down to critical numbers and if we continue this path bankruptcy may certainly be in our future. I can say that if a natural disaster was to hit Kennedale today the reserves we currently have would not put a dent in helping.  I believe a few things have gotten us to this point. Some we can control and some we can’t.

Lets compare your home to a budget.  When your home is organized, neat and tidy, you can locate all of your possessions and items generally do not get lost in the mix. When the home is neglected, clutter accumulates. Each day that goes by without cleaning your home, it becomes a more arduous task to accomplish. A messy home is like a messy financial situation — tracking items becomes exasperating and organization, increasingly difficult. Kennedale has been messy, very messy. I believe our new finance director Lakita Sutton has a large task before her but can do great things.  Her team has already won awards since her brief time here and has certainly made the budget much easier to understand.

Good behavior and management of funds help us get good bond rating. Most folks understand good behavior leads to more freedom. If a child behaves well in school, completes all of his/her chores, and treats others respectfully, she/he will be allowed to participate in more activities, go out more often, and generally have more fun. This concept can be paralleled with the concept of a credit and how paying bills on time will render a person financially trustworthy. The better we do with our finances the better rating we get and the more options we have financially. Our bond rating agency Standard and Poor has  recently given Kennedale a negative rating.  S&P is watching us with a microscope and that effects our future growth.

As a child I remember in school learning about a weight pendulum. Our budget is like a weight pendulum. This original form of weights and  balance consisted of a beam with a fulcrum at its center. Kennedale is spending more money then what’s coming in.  This scale is drastically leaning towards the wrong side. To make the scale balanced again we must add more money on the other side until the money coming in finally out weighs what we are spending. I believe we’ve cut areas in the budget as much as possible yet still need to take drastic measures. I know property tax is higher then most areas but at this point property tax must be increased to make up the difference.  Once we start reaping the benefits of the many developments coming into town, we can then begin to lower taxes again.  This is not a quick fix but over time I truly believe the city will finally be moving uphill and this will just be a bump in the road.

We are facing very unusual circumstances with COVID 19 and the effects it’s having not only the economy as a whole but our little Town. Businesses have already been struggling because we just don’t have the population to support it. Now we have this pandemic that’s compounding the effects everyone from small businesses owners to citizens losing their jobs. I was certain I would not vote to raise taxes in a difficult time like this because it just not something that should be done. However, we have been tasked with very difficult decisions, and any decisions we make may effect someone’s job or might make them decide to move, but unfortunately I believe some sort of increase is warranted.

Past Management made deals that do not hold true for today and I believe there was an extreme mismanagement of funds. Our current tax rate which is currently .73 and a few years ago, the council may have thought they were doing what’s best for the city by cutting the taxes four cents, but that decision has made a major impact on the future finances of this town. A city our size with the services we provide has to have money coming in to support these services. Many citizens don’t want Kennedale to grow but yet want a paramedic or police officer to respond in an emergency. Property tax supports those services.  We’ve already eliminated the water department and are contracting permit services because the funds just weren’t there. Now ideas have been shot around in regards to eliminating our ambulance service, freezing open positions and  furloughing employees.  City staff and council are working together to find anything that may save the city money.

You say well look at Arlington’s tax rate .63, Mansfield’s is .69 or Burleson’s is at .72. Those cities have enough homes and businesses to support a lower tax rate but Kennedale does not. Hopefully one day but for now we just don’t. Kennedale needs time and the right team and I believe increased revenue will follow. I feel in the past we’ve just covered the financial missteps with band aids and not actually repaired the issues. Is it the answer to increase the taxes to the effective tax rate of .75? Raising to the rollback rate of .77? Or increasing to the suggested .80 and allowing the citizens to vote on it? I really don’t know the right answer, but I know if nothing is done; people will lose their jobs, our city will crumble in catastrophe, and our city will not come out on the other side.

Look, I’m a citizen just like you who pays the same taxes. I’m certainly no politician.  You voted for me so I have an obligation to represent you and do what’s best for this city. Please contact me with any of your concerns or possible ideas. I love to sit down and talk with my fellow neighbors. jaltom@cityofkennedale.com FB Page is Josh Altom Kennedale City Council Place 1 and you can message me there.

May God bless you, your family, and our city throughout these difficult times!

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