With the Herald’s Texas House District 54 forum set for Monday, the Herald is planning to ask all four candidates about the issues that matter most to the Fort Hood area.

The four candidates expected to join the forum are incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, Republican Dr. Brad Buckley, Republican Larry Smith and Democrat Kathy Richerson.

With less than two months before the March 6 GOP primary, voters are looking for a candidate who can best represent their interests in Austin.

Here are a few of the topics for Monday’s forum.

Property tax reform

Perhaps no issue is of more importance to District 54 residents than meaningful property tax reform at the state level.

During the 85th Legislature in 2017, the House and Senate sent a wealth of bills back and forth that ended in acrimony and little significant policy.

Adding to residents’ concerns over local cities’ property tax increases, landowners throughout Bell and Lampasas counties have decried the practices of the county appraisal districts, which assign annual values to property.

In May, commercial landowners in Harker Heights were in an uproar after the Bell County Appraisal District raised some property values by as much as 5,050 percent from the previous year. Some of the most affected properties were vacant land, where landowners had no supplemental income to balance the tax increase.

After a wave of public outcry, the district sliced those initial appraisals by as much as 50 percent, but landowners have concerns the district could do the same thing again next year.

Another hot topic has been disabled veteran property tax exemptions, which have stripped millions from local jurisdictions’ coffers with little to no aid from the state. The city of Killeen will lose approximately $4.5 million in revenue from the exemptions even with state aid.

Cities like Harker Heights and Nolanville — which do not directly border Fort Hood — receive no reimbursement from the state.

School finance

As a Legislature-appointed interim commission to study school finance prepares its report for legislators in late 2018 or early 2019, area lawmakers are venturing their own plans for school finance reform.

Reform could help ease the burden on local landowners as more money is redirected from the state, possibly lowering school district tax rates and easing reliance on local debt.

The Killeen school district, which has one of the lowest district tax rates in the area, is proposing raising its tax rate as part of a possible $426 million bond election in May. The half-billion-dollar bond would help pay for a slew of new school facilities, including the district’s sixth high school campus on Chaparral Road.

Killeen, which is one of few districts to receive federal Impact Aid for educating children of military families, could see its Chapter 41 funding — also known as the “Robin Hood plan” — change depending on the commission’s report.

Water rights

With the state of Texas entering moderate drought conditions in the last few months of 2017, state legislators will have to step up to help residents prepare for a possible catastrophic drought in the near future.

The city of Killeen is currently funding the majority of a $50 million water treatment plant on the shores of Stillhouse Hollow Lake that is owned by the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1.

The district acts as the city’s wholesale drinking water provider that also treats the city’s wastewater.

The area is also still feeling the aftershocks of the Texas Public Utility Commission’s 2015 decision to authorize the wholesale takeover of the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District by the city of Georgetown.

The merger will block the city of Killeen’s expansion of water services in its southern corridor, potentially pitting the two cities against one another if a drought situation strikes the state or Killeen seeks to expand south in the coming decades.

kyleb@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7567

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