Three candidates are vying for Killeen mayor in the May 10 election.
1. Why do you think you are the best qualified candidate for mayor?
Hal Butchart: As a former professional soldier, I represent good judgment, integrity and openness. I ask the voters of Killeen to choose Hal Butchart as mayor. Being mayor will be my only job. I won’t take care of my friends, buddies and business associates. My only job will be humbly serving you, with an open door.
Scott Cosper: After nine years of service on the city council, three as mayor pro tem, I am the best candidate for mayor because of the experience I have, my working relationships with local, state and federal officials and my desire to serve the citizens of Killeen. My service has allowed me to be the chairman of many important committees that have a direct impact on our city and the surrounding regions. I have worked hard throughout the years to make our great city an even better community, and I look forward to continuing that work as your mayor. I am a proven regional leader.
Dick Young: Killeen deserves a full-time mayor and I have the time, integrity and experience to lead our city forward. I am the only candidate who has communicated a real forward-looking vision with solutions to the problems facing us. I have served three full terms on the council. I served seven years on planning and zoning. I have run businesses and created hundreds of good paying jobs. I understand budgets. While serving you, I reviewed and planned over three-quarters of a billion dollars in payroll and expenses. I will listen to your concerns and find ways to address your issues quickly.
2. What is the biggest issue facing Killeen?
Butchart: The issue of good jobs and an inviting business climate will be my No. 1 priority. U.S. Highway 190 needs to be dedicated an interstate highway. That will help bring new high-paying industry to Killeen. The three biggest industries in Killeen right now are the military, the city and the school district. Beyond that, the employers are lower paying service industries. This must be changed. Developing and improving the road network, the new airport, rebuilding city infrastructure and controlling crime is essential to this coming to be. I will work closely with the city council to get the four votes it takes to get anything done.
Cosper: There are many issues facing our community, but I believe the most important one right now is managing our continuing growth. We have to continue to update and honor our master plans, put processes into place to support new development while upgrading current infrastructure like our water capacity, roads and create an environment that invites business and residential growth. By managing this growth, we will be able to provide opportunities to our community for a wider range of higher paying, competitive jobs.
Young: The No. 1 complaint that I often hear in Killeen is “There’s nothing to do.” Killeen has outgrown its need for just more parks. While parks are important, they do very little to improve our economy. Every weekend Killeen families drive to neighboring cities to seek out family-oriented entertainment. We need to concentrate on bringing those attractions to our city, providing incentives and flexible zoning to encourage investment. Theme parks, interactive children’s museums and traveling exhibitions would enhance our quality of life. Family entertainment is more than just restaurants and bars. There has to be a balance.
3. How do you stand on the adoption of impact fees, which are fees put on a new development to pay for improvements it requires (water, sewer, roads, etc.), by the city?
Butchart: I believe impact fees certainly have their place, but it is important to remember that impact fees are another fee transferred on to new homeowners. To encourage the developers and builders to build and make affordable homes is a thin line, and charging more than the traffic will bear in impact fees will discourage improvement and innovation. It will defeat what impact fees were suppose to accomplish in the first place. As mayor, I will do my best to seek that elusive middle line.
Cosper: As a small businessman, I am sensitive to new taxes and regulations like impact fees. Impact fees could be a useful and acceptable tool in providing additional infrastructure if used correctly. The opposite is also true. Currently, our commercial and residential developments pay for all needed infrastructure within their projects. Impact fees could provide additional funding for regional assets such as lift stations, wider roadways and water/sewer treatment facilities. However, with the implementation of impact fees, there is the potential that we could lose our competitive edge regionally. Ultimately, thorough discussion could provide an acceptable solution for everyone.
Young: A new development must pay its own way. We must stop financing the developers and their sweetheart deals. I support the implementation of impact fees on new developments and believe it will stimulate new growth and level the playing field for everyone who wants to build residential and commercial areas in Killeen. Over 60 percent of cities with a population more than 25,000 have impact fees assessed by a state-mandated formula. Currently, the city borrows huge sums of money to pay for oversizing water/sewer drainage and roads to serve their developments. You pay higher taxes and they make bigger profits.
4. How big of a role should housing affordability play in the city’s future development?
Butchart: I believe housing affordability is a vital key to the future of the city and high-paying business development. As new high-paying businesses come to Killeen, affordable and safe housing must be readily available. There are 1,400 empty homes north of Central Texas Expressway. The city must show initiative in resettling this area to military retirees and others. This will also play an essential role in revitalizing, not just downtown, but the whole northern part of the city. The southern part of town should continue to grow and prosper with new housing. We must remember a house or city divided against itself cannot stand the test of time.
Cosper: Affordable housing is definitely a factor. It is, however, not the only factor. Quality, affordable housing has driven our economy over the last 15 years. It has provided tens of thousands of jobs, sales tax revenues, property tax revenues as well as a strong economy. This has led to the expansion of Central Texas College, our prestigious Texas A&M University-Central Texas and many new commercial and retail businesses. All of these can only continue to succeed with the growth of the population in our area. Therefore, an affordable, quality, competitive market leads to continued success in our city.
Young: We have done OK with affordable housing, but have totally ignored the need for higher-end homes and upscale neighborhoods. Currently, Killeen has very few options for higher-ranking military and senior noncommissioned officers, forcing them to seek housing in Harker Heights, Salado and Temple. With new hospitals, doctors and people associated with Texas A&M-Central Texas, we need more upscale housing areas. When the industry and high-tech jobs relocate here, demand will be even higher. We don’t need more duplexes and starter homes that soon become foreclosures or transient rental-filled neighborhoods that drive down your surrounding property values.
5. What would you do to help bring higher paying jobs to Killeen?
Butchart: The interstate designation of U.S. Highway 190 will do wonders for high-paying industrial job development. Improvements of our new airport with a new runway, Austin-comparable fares, the coming of big jets, runway ramp maintenance facilities and ramps available to high-tech industry developments and tax-free zones will make a difference. Also, Killeen needs more of its fair share of state and federal government offices and jobs.
Cosper: I will help bring higher paying jobs to Killeen by focusing on emerging technologies, especially in military, medical and energy research and development opportunities. These are all within our reach through collaboration with the city of Killeen, Killeen Economic Development Corporation, Killeen Chamber of Commerce, Central Texas College and Texas A&M-Central Texas. As a proven regional leader, I have the ability to lead the collaboration efforts required for these initiatives. Additionally, the designation of U.S. Highway 190 as an interstate, which I am directly involved in and currently working on, will be a game changer in our economic development efforts.
Young: I would have a job summit inviting leading job creators from across Texas to explain our strengths and weakness and match with high paying long-term jobs from high-tech and manufacturing. We currently give away to the chamber of commerce and KEDC $1.6 million. We should invest it along with Texas Enterprise Funds creating jobs. Those can only be used to attract and train high-paying jobs currently going to Austin. Eighty-plus percent of all noncity/teacher jobs created over the last 10 years in Killeen pay under $8 per hour. That is not a living wage, and cannot continue.