By Philip Jankowski and Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald
In May, Killeen residents will revitalize the now-quorumless Killeen City Council, and some know what they want the 26 candidates vying for the six open seats to discuss as their campaigns move into the last month before the election.
Nearly 50 residents, who have lived in the city between a few months and several decades, participated in the Herald's random survey about local issues, and they consistently raised three areas of concern - small-business services, downtown Killeen and the city's infrastructure.
Local business services
City residents want the new council to reconsider ordinances they say damage their revenue streams.
"I think they should address new business issues, especially for smaller businesses," said Michelle Fry, a 10-year resident of Killeen and owner of Jazzercise Killeen. "Local ordinances should represent small businesses' interests as well as the bigger companies here."
Several small-business owners expressed dissatisfaction in the city's sign ordinance. "They should allow us to add signs that show the directionality of the business," said Lisa Ann Plummer, a 23-year Killeen resident and owner of LA's Cupcakery. "I'm losing customers because of this ordinance, and I can't afford another option like a billboard."
Some disagree with the city's influence over advertising.
"I think it is wrong that the city officials can tell me how I can and cannot advertise my business," said Sandra Skinner, owner of Ashley Furniture, Furniture Zone and Sleep Shop. "I would like to hope that the new city council would look real hard at what our city officials are doing right now."
Among the council and mayoral candidates polled at random, their main economic concerns rest with anchoring large retail businesses in the city and keeping those industries from going other places, namely Harker Heights.
"We've lost several good businesses to Harker Heights, which shouldn't have happened," said mayoral candidate Billy Workman. "As a city, we have to be willing to give these retail and manufacturing businesses tax incentives to come to Killeen and stay here."
Eric Nellis, also running for mayor, agreed. "Harker Heights is passing us in new small-business growth and services and Killeen needs to get back to the basics of attracting more here," he said, adding that the city needs to be more aggressive in attracting manufacturing to Killeen. "Manufacturing provides good jobs, and we must take a fresh look at bringing it to the city because it's not such a bad thing to have it."
Killeen city officials have taken steps to revitalize its downtown, but for many residents, progress is not moving fast enough.
Last week, the city celebrated the grand opening of the Killeen Arts and Activities Center housed in the former First Baptist Church complex. The city purchased the building in December 2006 for $2 million, an amount that became one of many controversial points as the project evolved.
Despite some downtown development, several residents are still concerned about the appearance of the older buildings in the area.
"Downtown is a mess, and all we're doing is abandoning the problem, not facing it," said Matt Siegel, a 10-year resident of Killeen and small business owner. "I want a candidate who will talk about that."
Steve Harris, one of 16 at-large city council candidates, said: "Some businesses there look old and worn, and for the most part I would push for painting or sandblasting them because that's the least expensive way to make the buildings look better. The downtown is the central part of the city, and I'd like to see it generate revenue like it used to and not be a place where people don't want to go because of stories they've heard about it."
To entice property owners to repair or refurbish existing buildings, the city's senior planner, Jill Hall, said tax abatements were granted to three property owners last year who made improvements to buildings downtown.
Workman said planting trees and flowers is a way to beautify the downtown area but shifted part of the responsibility to the business and property owners. "We're giving these businesses tax incentives, so why aren't they using their money to improve their property?"
Most of downtown would be eligible for a 20 percent tax abatement to improvements if the area can be entered into the national registry of historical places. City officials have submitted an application to the Texas Historical Commission.
"It would be great to get new business downtown, but we need to work with businesses already there and make improvements," said at-large city council candidate Michael Gamel. "The fronts and sides of the businesses there are eyesores."
For Killeen residents surveyed, traffic congestion was a recurring matter of concern.
"The traffic in town and on (U.S.) 190 has gotten really bad," said Stephanie Herrera, a six-year Killeen resident and student at Central Texas College. "The streets are very crowded, and they weren't built for a city with so many people. I feel like there has been so much growth with people and houses, but no one has addressed the roads."
The city's population neared 128,000 in 2010 and chief among the ongoing and planned road construction projects is the widening of U.S. Highway 190, which government officials hope will alleviate traffic during peak travel times on Killeen's most traveled thoroughfare.
The $59-million project, funded by the state, will widen the road to a six-lane highway from Fort Hood's main gate to W.S. Young Drive. Work is expected to begin this summer.
The state also will reimburse the city for upgrades to State Highway 201 and an overpass where the highway intersects with State Highway 195. The project is expected to be completed in 2013.
Several new subdivisions have come to the region in recent years, leading to residential growth and more traffic.
Stagecoach Road, a $15-million project, is under construction in one of the faster growing areas of Killeen. The roadway will be widened to five lanes at its intersection with State Highway 195. Toward the Harker Heights end of the road, it will be three lanes with a center turn lane and sidewalks.
The completion of the eastern phase of the project is expected by the end of the year. The city will seek bids for the western phase this fall, said George Lueck, Killeen's director of transportation.
A future project the city plans to pursue is the lengthening of Rosewood Drive to U.S. 190, where an overpass will be built. The Federal Aviation Administration is looking at design plans because of the street's proximity to Skylark Field, said interim city manager Glenn Morrison.
"The infrastructure problems we're seeing are part of the city's growth, especially with the soldiers returning," said Jose Segarra, city council candidate for the District 2 seat. "We're having to play catch-up."
SOUND OFF: What do you want city council candidates to talk about as they campaign for your vote?
"They should talk about how they would work to make government more open, and how they would make themselves more available to the general public to talk to or communicate with."
Brandon Smith, 35
Owner of We Deliver Killeen, 20-year resident
• • •
"We have so many high school drop outs right now and (cuts to schools) won't help. We should really fight that. ... If you start cutting teachers, it means more students in (each class)."
Margaret Miller, 75
Retired, 43-year resident
• • •
"How do they stand on basic issues and are they animal friendly. If they're not animal friendly, I don't want them. Also downtown revitalization is very important to me."
George Fox, 59, Retired military and president of Assisi Animal Refuge, 25-year resident
• • •
"I'm not a political person, but as a military spouse, I think they should be addressing issues related to Fort Hood. Anything that affects our military, locally, is important to me."
Amanda Bailey, 23
Photographer, 5-year resident
• • •
"My concern is the over building of single-family housing, which is hurting our soldiers. Why do we have so many foreclosed homes, and why are we building (more homes)?"
Don Clay, 76
Retired Army colonel, 28-year resident
• • •
"Make life better for the seniors. Maybe put some sidewalks down where senior citizens can walk, even with a walker. ...Give them a chance to get out. Many senior citizens get left out."
Evelyn Whitaker, 71
Retired, 4-month resident
• • •
"I'd like to hear them talk about the cost of living. I just moved back here a few months ago, and everything seems more expensive. Even the most basic stuff costs more."
Antoine Overstreet, 21
College student, 5-year resident
• • •
"I think they should tell us their vision and their goals. ... When I'm voting, I want to ensure that the individuals that do serve on our council represent our community for the right reasons."
TaNeika Driver, 37
Killeen NAACP president, 14-year resident
• • •
"I want the candidates to talk about the quality of life in Killeen. Killeen is growing at a fast pace. What type of city are we going to live in 15 years from now?"
David Bass, 56
Killeen school teacher, 16-year resident
• • •
"The city needs to concentrate on the teens. They have all these vacant buildings they aren't doing anything with. Why can't they put in a teen center for 13- to 18-year-olds?"
Sandra Frazier, 73
Retired, 38-year resident
• • •
"I want to know what they're going to do about downtown. I want a candidate that can say instead of letting builders overdevelop the surrounding area, we have got to find ways to revitalize our current city. Downtown is a mess and all we're doing is abandoning the problem, not facing it. I want a candidate who will talk about that."
Matt Siegel, 37
Consultant/small-business owner, 10-year resident
• • •
"I want to hear how they plan to highlight and promote the positive aspects of our city. I think that after the recall, people tend to jump right to the negative. I want candidates to talk about how they plan to promote all the things Killeen has to offer."
Jennifer Hetzel, 26
Central Texas College employee, 12-year resident
• • •
"The traffic in town, and on the 190 has gotten really bad. The streets are very crowded, and they weren't built for a city with so many people. I feel like there has been so much growth with people and houses, but no one has addressed the roads. I'd like to see them talk about that."
Stephanie Herrera, 22
College student, 6-year resident
• • •
"Small business. I want to hear (the candidates) talk about how they would ease regulations and restrictions. I want to know how they will make things more friendly for businesses, or people who want to start businesses in the city."
Walter Cook, 37
Entrepreneur, 7-year resident
• • •
"I'd say the roads. A lot of roads around here are definitely in need of repair. I'm also concerned about the new traffic light on Stan Schlueter Loop. I think its made the intersection very confusing. I don't really think it's safe."
Tiffany Craig, 22
College student, 17-year resident
• • •
"To be open. No secrets. If I'm going to vote for you, be honest when I have a question."
Estella Macias, 67
Retired social worker
"My main thing is revitalization of the downtown area. And also the homeless situation. I know they're working on the Heritage House, but it seems like they're dragging their heels. I'd like to see them emphasize trying to increase businesses and infrastructure to go away from the military."
Robert Jones, 58
Full-time volunteer at the Christian Assistance Network, 18-month resident
• • •
"I don't think the city helps the small businesses on (the north side) of town at all. They need to stick with what girl brought you to the dance, not go chasing another girl. Rancier was the first street in this town. It just seems like the town goes that way (south) and they forget about the guys on this side."
Michael "Bones" Crisp, 44
Owner of Bones Outlaw BBQ, 4-year resident
• • •
"I think it is wrong that the city officials can tell me how I can and cannot advertise my business. I would like to hope that the new city council would look real hard at what our city officials are doing right now."
Sandra Skinner, 54
Owner of Ashley Furniture, Furniture Zone and Sleep Shop, 48-year resident
• • •
"One would probably be traffic. Its horrible. From west of Fort Hood Street to Copperas Cove and Clear Creek it gets pretty terrible. The other probably has to be the lack of things to do here in Killeen. I know I hear that a lot. We need entertainment and shopping and anything to boost the economy."
Chessie Floyd, 25
Cosmetologist, 5-year resident
• • •
"The sign ordinance. They put too much rules on our banners. I'm having to offer something that is more expensive which scares them away. Yet all the car dealers on the highway have tons of banners out there, and I don't know if the law applies to them or not, so basically I don't think it does. ... We need to really do that because this is not going to work. We're not making any money."
Al Assal, 38
Owner of Speedy Signs, 17-year resident
"I think they should address new businesses issues, especially for small businesses. Local ordinances should represent small business interests as well as the bigger companies here."
Michelle Fry, 35
Owner of Jazzercise Killeen, 10-year resident
• • •
"As a small-business owner, revisit the issue of signage. They should allow us to add signs that show the directionality of the business Right now they won't let us do anything. We can't put signs out by the street. It's hurting my business. I have people that can't find me, and GPS often takes them to the wrong location here. I'm losing customers because of this ordinance. And I can't afford another option, like a billboard, which could cost as much as $1,600 a month."
Lisa Ann Plummer, 31
Owner of LA's Cupcakery, 23-year resident
• • •
"We need to do something to clean our city up. Why do we have so much road construction going on at once? Other than that I like living here."
Karen Siesk, 65
Retired, 4½-year resident
• • •
"One of the biggest issues we've had is when the deal happened between Mr. Green. The way it was handled was poor. They should have investigated it and come to a conclusion instead of talking to each other about what to do. The parks here - I don't know why every subdivision doesn't have a playground where children can go to play. I see that in Temple."
Carmen Pedraza, 57
Utility designer, 50-year resident
• • •
"I want somebody to get in that's going to help folks. The older people need a lot of help."
Princella Milton, 88
Retired, 3-year resident
• • •
"I would love to see every candidate have a website or Facebook page for their campaign so I can quickly get to know more about them and their stance on issues. Thanks to those candidates who have already done this."
Shay Baker Miller, 33
Marketing director, 14-month resident
To view more comments and join the conversation, go to www.facebook.com/KDHnews.
Candidate forums this week
Killeen voters can question candidates at multiple forums this week.
The Daily Herald and Killeen Exchange Club are hosting a candidate forum from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, 3601 S. W.S. Young Drive. To submit questions for the candidates, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two political forums are co-sponsored by the Killeen Branch NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens Council 4535, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Both forums are scheduled at the Killeen Community Center, Room 150, 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd.
Killeen school board and Killeen mayoral candidates will attend from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Candidates for Killeen at-large and Districts 1 and 2 council seats will attend from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday.
Refreshments will be served at both forums. For more information, call (254) 286-9211.
The Governmental Affairs Committee and the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce co-sponsor a forum from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Paul Chong Hasang Catholic Church, 1000 E. Farm-to-Market Road 2410 in Harker Heights.
Candidates running for Harker Heights City Council and Killeen school board are scheduled to attend.
The luncheon costs $20 per person and registration is due by noon Tuesday. For more information and to register, call (254) 699-4999.
The Republican Party of Coryell County is hosting a district attorney forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Republican Party Headquarters, 115 Ave. D in Copperas Cove.
Catrina Rawson, Christopher McGuinness, Clare Haefner, Holly Wise, Marianne Lijewski, Norma Martin, Rebecca Rose, Rose L. Thayer and TJ Maxwell contributed to this report.