At midnight tonight, Killeen-area residents will ring in the new year — a year that is likely to feature significant challenges and potential change.
On the horizon are the elections for Killeen City Council and mayor, a prospective $146 million bond issue to pay for several Killeen ISD building projects, including a new high school; and the possible outsourcing of the city’s solid waste services.
Killeen voters also may be asked to go to the polls to decide the fate of another bond issue — at least $46 million in city notes to build roads to serve the school district’s newest facilities.
While the passage of these bond issues could bring higher property tax bills, residents also have reason to be wary of their preliminary tax appraisal statements this spring — after some local property owners were slammed with appraisal increases of up to 300 percent last year.
Indeed, property tax rates are likely to be a hot topic again this year — and one that may dominate the races for state representative locally.
In the District 54 House race, Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper faces a primary challenge from Brad Buckley and Larry Smith — and all three have stressed the importance of addressing the property tax issue at the state level.
Complicating the issue is the problem of low state compensation for cities offering property tax exemptions to disabled veterans — an equation that led to a $4 million hit to Killeen’s tax revenue in the current budget.
The Killeen City Council and City Manager Ron Olson — who is entering his second year with the city — will have to wrestle with the tax gap as well as ways to supplement the city’s revenue streams through a variety of potential sources. Among them are a property tax increase, developer impact fees, transportation utility fees and outsourcing of city services, to include trash collection. Without some added revenue, the council is likely to face further cuts to city expenditures that were trimmed significantly last year.
The direction the council takes on pursuing revenue may depend on which candidates voters choose in the May 5 municipal election.
Mayor Jose Segarra said this weekend he will seek re-election to a second term.
At-large Council members Juan Rivera and Gregory Johnson are up for re-election, and Councilman Jonathan Okray is term-limited and ineligible to run again.
Candidate filing for the city election opens Jan. 17, and who files to run — and who doesn’t — may be a factor in the council’s policy decisions in the coming year.
That same election may determine the Killeen school district’s long-term future as well. If the school board endorses the bond steering committee’s recommendation for a $146 million bond issue, voters will decide whether the district builds a fifth traditional high school by 2021, as well as several other building and remodeling projects.
In addition to deciding the fate of the potential bond issue, district voters will select school board members for two seats, currently held by JoAnn Purser and Minerva Trujillo.
If it seems as if Killeen-area voters have an outsized role to play in the new year, it’s because they do.
In addition to the potential bond issues, city and school board races, voters will decide who takes office at the county, state and national level. The primary races are already heating up for state representative and county commissioner, and both local congressional seats feature contested primaries as well. Of course, the November election will be closely watched as well, as Democrats are trying to make inroads into traditionally Republican districts across the area.
What else should residents watch for in the coming year?
Killeen will be losing one of its three air carriers on Jan. 15, when Delta Airlines discontinues service from Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport. Whether the city can attract another airline to fill the void may decide whether the airport can maintain viability amid declining passenger numbers.
The city’s police chief, Charles Kimble, will begin his first full year with the city looking for ways to combat a rising violent crime rate — which included a record number of homicides in 2017. Faced with a tight budget and limited police overtime, Kimble will be challenged to develop a strategy to bring the city’s crime numbers under control.
In the city’s business park, a controversial chemical plant will be taking shape, with the plant expected to begin operations in 2019. Residents who opposed the plant — which will manufacture highly purified hydrogen peroxide for the computer industry — will want to monitor the plant’s permitting process and obtain more information about the plant’s operations as the year progresses.
Also in progress will be Killeen’s comprehensive plan for growth and development, on which city staff recently began work. Though it may not be completed in 2018, elements of the plan will provide clues to the city’s future growth template.
The development of the Interstate 14 / U.S. Highway 190 corridor will be an important part of the area’s growth. As the new year begins, the recently launched “14 Forward Economic Development Initiative” will work toward its goal of raising $2 million in a private-sector campaign to grow the area’s economy along the I-14 corridor.
Texas A&M University-Central Texas will reach a milestone late next summer with the dedication of Heritage Hall, the school’s third campus building. The $36 million building will house offices for professors from the Arts and Science college, as well as computer classrooms and a library archive.
Of course, the Killeen area’s future is tied closely to that of Fort Hood, and developments in Washington and internationally have the potential to impact the post — and consequently our community.
No matter what happens at the Pentagon, the Killeen area will continue to support the men and women who serve here, as well as those who represent our community in locations around the world.
If recent history is any indication, 2018 will be a year marked by challenges.
Killeen-area residents must be willing to deal with those challenges collectively, and to find the solutions that will best serve the community as a whole.