It would be an overstatement to say that Killeen residents spoke at the polls Saturday.
Certainly, some of them did — 686 to be exact. But even combined with the 964 voters who cast their ballots during the early voting period, just 1,650 Killeen residents took part in the city’s election.
To be sure, this wasn’t what could be called a high-profile election. Voters in only three of the city’s four districts were eligible to vote, since there was no contested race in District 1. Also, there was no mayor’s race on the ballot or any controversial propositions to be decided.
Still, the election of three council members should generate far more interest. Considering the city has more than 74,000 eligible voters, a turnout of just 1,650 residents — 2.2 percent — is disheartening.
Certainly, opportunity wasn’t the problem, as the city offered seven days of early voting at three sites, plus 12 hours of voting at 13 precinct polling sites Saturday.
Motivation shouldn’t have been the issue either. With a tight municipal budget and competing city spending priorities, residents should have turned out in droves to vote for the candidates who best represented their interests.
If for no other reason, residents should go to the polls to weigh in on how their money is spent.
For example, when the City Council narrowly passed a street maintenance fee, to be added to residents’ utility bills, some residents vowed to register their displeasure at the ballot box. Did they follow through on their promise, and if so, how many votes did this account for in this election?
The council also made news of late with plans to move ahead with the voluntary annexation of 159 acres in two areas of town, at the request of developers. Some nearby residents were unhappy with the outcome. Did they speak up at the polls on Saturday?
The city is on the hook for more than $30 million for the construction of a new $48 million water treatment plant on Stillhouse Hollow Lake. The city won’t own the plant when it’s completed; a local water district will. Yet, Killeen’s rate payers are funding the city’s monthly payments for the plant, which will largely serve residents in the southern part of town. The arrangement has caused grumbling among some residents over the past few years, but did many of these same residents take time to vote over the last two weeks?
Killeen is also obligated to build a water line to serve a 3,700-home municipal utility district, or MUD, south of town, as well as a 1-million-gallon water tower after 1,500 homes are built in the development. That money will have to come from somewhere, as will the funds to help pay for the widening and resurfacing of Chaparral Road to accommodate a new high school in south Killeen.
People in all areas of Killeen will end up paying for these projects in some manner — either through taxes, fees, utility rates or shifting of city funds. Did a significant proportion of these residents cast a ballot in their city’s election?
Because of tight budgets, the city has trimmed programs at Killeen’s two community centers, including senior swim programs at the city’s indoor pool. Did everyone affected by these cuts make their voices heard at the ballot box?
Without knowing exactly who voted in this election, it’s hard to see whether residents had these issues in mind when they went to the polls. However, it’s apparent from the low numbers that not nearly enough residents saw the need to speak up.
Some residents, no doubt, are satisfied with the way the city is operating. But the way to affirm your support is to vote for the incumbents, not sit out the election.
Others may feel as if their vote won’t make a difference, or that no matter who is elected, city policies are unlikely to change.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
In a city election where turnout is low, each vote’s significance is magnified. District races are often decided by a handful of votes — and this year’s election was no different -- indeed, two of the three races were fairly close.
In addition, when elections are close, council members tend to pay closer attention to the residents’ input on city issues. People who vote can have a legitimate impact on the shaping of council actions.
This election may be over, but residents’ oversight of their elected representatives is just beginning.
If you haven’t done so already, get involved in city government — and stay involved.
Attend council meetings when possible, follow the monthly financial reports on the city’s website, and offer your input in the city’s annual budget hearings, coming up later this summer.
Know the issues, and get to know your council members and mayor. Then feel free to speak up — on the phone or by email, at public meetings and at the ballot box.
It’s your city, and the elected representatives work for you — not the other way around.
Whether you are happy with your lawmakers or want to make a change, your vote is your voice.
Next time around, let’s make that voice considerably louder.