Thirteen candidates are vying for three at-large seats on the Killeen City Council.
All were in attendance at a forum on Monday night answering questions to a crowd of more than 100. The Killeen Daily Herald-sponsored event was held at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
The council candidates are Elizabeth Blackstone, Mellisa Brown, Nina Cobb, Carla Escalante, Rosalyn Finley, Leo Gukeisen, Tolly James Jr., Hugh “Butch” Menking, Placidio Juan Rivera, Edward Skinner, Kenny Wells, Ken Wilkerson and Rickey Williams.
The majority of the candidates voiced their concern for better funding support of the city’s first responders and better retention of police department employees during the program.
Questions on several topics were asked by Herald moderators, including impact fees.
In the Killeen area, where the population is expected to top 280,000 in the next 50 years, the Killeen City Council decided 4-3 late last year that the taxpayers will pay for infrastructure leading to private developments.
The Dec. 17, 2019, vote rejected a proposal to ask developers and builders to pay a fee to help offset some costs that fall to the city and its taxpayers and ratepayers. The cash-strapped city last summer began charging water customers a street fee to maintain older streets the growing city was leaving behind.
Because of the large number of candidates, questions were asked in two sets during the forum. The groups were divided alphabetically. Group A was asked one question and Group B was asked a different question on the same topic.
QUESTION: Where do you stand on the imposition of impact fees and why?
Blackstone: “Our council worked very hard on this … one thing that I would like to point out and I think is very important is that when a council makes a decision that we all try to support what they decided. To have a split city is a dangerous thing. We need to support the people who serve us and are on our council and get behind what they have to say … We need more revenue in our city whether it comes from impact fees or from other sources.”
Brown: “The city council that just voted against impact fees voted for $22 million in additional revenue bonds. It was admitted that the money that those $22 million in revenue bonds, that were are asking out on additional debt, could have been covered by impact fees ... developers may pay for infrastructure in their development but the impact those houses have or those buildings have on the rest of the city extend far beyond those borders of that development.”
Cobb: “Our studies that we have are showing the effect of impact fees on the first-time homebuyers. But we need to do studies on what it means for the city. And until we receive all the information and once I become part of the council, I want research on what does it mean. When I think of impact fees, I think of the first-time homebuyer.”
Escalante: “I have done a lot of research on this and I think it’s important to say that if you want to bring business to Killeen; you have to make sure that your business is not going to hurt the citizens of Killeen in the future. And that includes infrastructure … I want responsible builders here.”
Finley: “I do believe that the developers should foot the cost. They are the ones who benefit from development. We are putting more stress and strain on the citizens of our community. There are people who are struggling to pay their bills. We have to help the community. We have to find a way to relieve the citizens.”
Gukeisen: “I have been in support of impact fees; I have been since day one. I have made numerous addresses to the city council. One time I addressed the council, I showed them a list of 20 different cities in Texas that have impact fees and are still here … Impact fees should be reconsidered and voted on.”
James: “In reference to impact fees, I do support them. But I think the question to ask as we look at this is that we need to make sure we don’t use this kind of wedge as ‘us against them.’ It is true that we all need to manage this responsibility. Here is the question I’ve asked the developers that say we don’t need any more responsibility; then why did we start a (street) maintenance fee? Because we can’t take care of our streets without regular revenue.”
QUESTION: Leading up to the vote on impact fees last year, the council was bombarded with a lot of numbers and complex formulas, with little time for formal discussion. If you were to reintroduce the subject of impact fees, how would you structure them and why?
Menking: “The reason why I voted against impact fees as it was presented to council back in the fall … was because businesses were included. If you are trying to develop a city and want businesses to be attractive, you don’t stick them with a big bill. I spent about five months talking to colleagues around the state. Some had impact fees, some didn’t. Two things that I gathered; one was the impact fees on businesses was not good … the second was infrastructure standards.”
Rivera: “I was on the capital improvement advisory committee and it was something that we worked on in-depth. The numbers we put on there were very economical. In terms of impact fees, I am for them. The reason why I am for them is because .. it is not the be all and end all as far as revenue issues. They are a tool.”
Skinner: “There are 50 United States; Lord knows how many cities and towns. This is the first one where I lived where the developers do not pay to install their own roads, their own sewers, and their own water. I don’t see any reason why Killeen should pay for that.”
Wells: “Impact fees are controversial. Everyone wants tax relief and the city needs additional revenue. I would work to find a happy medium somewhere. As it is, the city is getting no new revenue and we need to develop a plan that is simplified … we do need to find a solution.”
Wilkerson: “I am in favor of impact fees. For one, the developers are developing on that land. They are going to see the biggest benefit for the development of that land. They should foot the bill.”
Williams: “I am in favor of impact fees. It’s really a pass-thru tax. The developer builds a new home, they’re going to raise the price of that new home and that is true. We have some first-time homebuyers that might have to wait a little bit longer, but if you’re paying $1,000 on a mortgage over 30 years, I don’t think that is going to stop buying a home.”
Residents left the venue with a positive outlook.
Margo James, a 17-year Killeen resident, liked the answers she heard, considering the one-minute constraint per question.
She thought the candidates did a good job of answering the questions, but she was most pleased with the issues raised.
“I think the questions that were asked are questions that are of a concern for all of our citizens,” she said.
James Payton, a Killeen resident for more than 15 years, liked seeing new faces among the field of candidates.
“I think it was very informative,” he said. “A lot of good ideas from the different candidates.
Herald reporter Thaddeus Imerman contributed to this report.