Which candidates do you support and where do they stand on issues that matter?

Even though early voting in municipal and school board elections is still a month away, those are important questions to answer now — rather than later.

In the Killeen City Council race, for example, 12 candidates are vying for three at-large seats. Two of the candidates are incumbent council members, but that still leaves 10 people who many voters may know little about.

In an effort to help the large field of hopefuls get their views out to the public, the Herald conducted an early forum on March 5 for Killeen City Council and mayoral candidates.

The fact that all 17 candidates participated in our forum was indicative of their commitment to their candidacy as well as their willingness to go on the record with the city’s residents.

The council candidates, especially, are to be commended for their thoughtful responses to the moderators’ in-depth questions. Their strength of conviction was evident throughout the evening.

But just as importantly, the Herald applauds the approximately 200 local residents who took about two hours out of their Monday evening to listen to what the candidates had to say.

It’s fair to assert they are better informed for having done so.

To all who attended, the Herald welcomes your continued involvement in the election. Please contact us about issues important to you at news@kdhnews.com and put “Killeen election” in the subject field.

When it comes to choosing the elected officials who will craft our ordinances and spend our tax money, the time for decision-making should come long before residents step into the voting booth.

Rather, it’s important for voters to become familiar with the candidates over the course of the campaign. That means paying close attention to how they view the council’s role in governing, where they think the city should be headed and how best to get there.

Nowhere is that more important than in the area of city finances.

Killeen has come through a financially turbulent period in the last three years — starting with a projected $8 million budget shortfall in 2016 that required some significant cuts in spending to make ends meet.

Though the city passed a balanced budget last year, difficult cuts in programs and services were required, along with deferred spending, to bring city finances into balance.

Now the city manager has projected a widening revenue-spending gap over the next 20 years, with Killeen facing a $27.6 million shortfall by 2037 if the city stays on its current path. And if other factors such as employee retirement fund contributions, pay increases and infrastructure investment are added, that number could reach $50 million.

With that dark cloud looming, voters should be looking for some answers.

How do our current candidates propose to change Killeen’s budget trajectory? Would they favor increasing current revenue streams, identifying new ones or slashing city spending?

More importantly, how would the proposed solutions impact the city’s residents — both in the short and long term?

In today’s Herald, City Hall /political reporter Kyle Blankenship asks each council and mayoral candidate about the issue of city finances, and each shares his or her views on the subject.

Just as importantly, candidates were asked how they view their roles as stewards of the taxpayers’ money — especially in light of a proposition on the May 5 ballot that would remove council oversight in the area of interdepartmental budget transfers.

How the candidates view the proposed change — as a means to simplify the budget process or a restriction of their fiduciary oversight role — should help voters see who best aligns with their own philosophy of representative government.

In the coming weeks, the Herald will continue to give voters the tools they need to make informed decisions in the voting booth.

In the April 8 edition, the Herald will feature overviews of the races for Killeen City Council and mayor, Killeen Independent School District board of directors and the WCID-1 board of directors. In addition, the Herald will take an in-depth look at the proposed $426 million KISD school bond issue and explain the two propositions up for a vote on the Killeen municipal ballot. The section will feature a matrix format where voters can make side-by-side comparisons to the candidates’ answers on a questions of interest. In addition, the guide will provide a list of polling sites and times.

In the April 15 edition, the Herald will profile races in the neighboring communities of Harker Heights, Salado, Florence, Belton and Lampasas.

Early voting in our local municipal and school board races begins April 23. That may seem like a long way off, but it’s important to use the coming weeks to get to know the candidates and their views.

For those who were unable to attend the Herald’s forum on March 5, a video of the event is available online at the kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics, along with other important election information.

More candidate forums are scheduled in the coming weeks, and the Herald will advise readers before these events and provide coverage.

There’s a lot at stake in the upcoming elections.

Killeen voters will select representatives who will be tasked with guiding the city on a sustainable economic path for the next two years — and beyond.

Killeen ISD voters will decide whether to commit up to $426 million in bonds — a total that would impact taxpayers’ pocketbooks for 30 years, if passed.

Voters in WCID-1 will take part in the water district’s first election in 28 years. The outcome has the potential to affect the area’s water supply, water treatment and infrastructure planning at a critical time in the region’s development.

So invest some time to become informed on the issues, and get to know your candidates and where they stand before going to the polls.

Our community — and our democracy — will be better for it.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

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