Six candidates are seeking two open seats on the Harker Heights City Council in the May 1 municipal election.

In Place 2, Howard “Scot” Arey is challenging incumbent Michael Blomquist, who is seeking his second three-year term.

In Place 5, four candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by Councilwoman Jody Nicholas, who is term-mited by the city charter and ineligible to seek reelection.

Seeking the seat are Victor Dubininkas, Sam Halabi, Jeffrey Harris and Stacey Wilson.

With just over three weeks to go until the start of early voting on April 19, the Harker Heights Herald asked the council candidates to share their views on their candidacies and their priorities for the city.

Place 2

Howard ‘Scot’ Arey

1. Why are you running for Harker Heights City Council?

This city council raised our city taxes last year by over a million dollars, an 8.4 percent increase in tax revenue, and they did this during a financially stressful pandemic year. This wasn’t to meet a specific spending need but to increase the city’s operating reserves to almost six months. Never again! I think Harker Heights families’ financial needs during a pandemic, their own savings, should have been a clear priority over maximizing tax revenue.

2. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 challenges facing the city?

First, we must never have another year where the city increases taxes by 8.4 percent at the expense of citizens.

Second, the under-the-radar planning to acquire Dana Peak Park, including nearly $100,000 of our taxes already taken for this still Council-unapproved project must stop. Finally, and this is an outgrowth of the top two priorities, the City must stop using the Open Meetings Act to tamp down dialogue and instead use it to maximize citizen participation.

3. If elected, what single issue would be your top priority?

Harker Heights includes Veterans, active duty, citizens who have never been around the military and DVs with the 100 percent property tax exemption. The budget gap we have from the exemption is the top challenge and we must have a fuller dialogue about it. Although this Council has my opponent, a retired field grade officer, and a sergeant major, both of whom who receive this exemption, neither has led a dialogue to chart a path forward.

4. If elected, what steps would you take to make sure that you are accessible to your constituents?

We should get off the elevated Council dais from time to time for meetings that encourage Citizens’ participation. Let’s schedule a hearing monthly that enables two-way dialogue instead of unanswered citizen comments. An annual “State of the City” hearing will inform the budget planning with Citizen priorities. Finally, I’d like meetings to be periodically held at the Activities Center where citizens are more comfortable talking with officials face to face, and not looking up.

MICHAEL BLOMQUIST

1. Why are you running for Harker Heights City Council?

I am running for re-election to continue what I promised and campaigned on in 2018; Continued “Smart Growth,” Infrastructure Improvements, and Security.

Under my watch, the City added 27 new businesses, 498 new homes, 64 major infrastructure projects, and lowered crime with no unsolved major cases.

Keeping our city as “The Bright Star of Central Texas” has shown that businesses and people want to move into and live in Harker Heights. Promises made … Promises kept!

2. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 challenges facing the city?

1) Nothing is free. The City must grow revenues without raising the tax rate!“Smart Growth” bypromoting highly desirable businesses and housing that total revenue growth has steadily grown.

2) Repair infrastructure damages from “Snowmeggedon.” My leadership helped build solid reserves that will repair our infrastructure without going into debt or raising the City tax rate.

3) As our population grows, our City services must grow to meet the demands of new citizens and businesses.

3. If elected, what single issue would be your top priority?

Veterans Tax Exemption Reimbursement costing Harker Heights ~$2.5 million this year in lost revenues.

My top priority will be to continue working with Representative Buckley and Senator Buckingham to get legislation passed to fund this unfunded State mandate. I proudly served 22+ years in the Army and as a disabled veteran, I continue to proudly serve as your elected Councilman. Solving this issue would allow the City a new fire station and lower tax rate!

4. If elected, what steps would you take to make sure that you are accessible to your constituents?

Many recognize me from my Harker Heights shirt, which I proudly wear proclaiming that I am their elected Councilman. A regular at our local Farmers Market and City events, I enjoy being an ambassador to our City.

I regularly receive emails and phone calls to meet, discuss, and help my constituents with their issues and concerns.

I take great pride in my Councilman duties and my door is always open. Email me at mblomquist@ci.harker-heights.tx.us

PLACE 5

VITALIS DUBININKAS

1. Why are you running for Harker Heights City Council?

I am running for city council to be the voice of younger citizens and the working class.

For far too long, people my age have complained about the issues affecting their community, and yet, no one from this demographic seems to be stepping up and trying to fix these problems.

2. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 challenges facing the city?

The most obvious challenge facing the city is the difference between capital expenditures and the sources of revenue (e.g. property tax, sales tax). This is a multi-faceted issue, which the existing council is attempting to address.

The second challenge is the crumbling infrastructure (e.g. sidewalks, roads); as well as the general scarcity of sidewalks, bathrooms, and public water fountains.

The third challenge is the disagreement between the general public and the future goals of the Parks & Recreation department (e.g. leasing out Dana Peak Park).

3. If elected, what single issue would be your top priority?

My biggest priority would be giving back hard-earned freedoms to the citizens of Harker Heights, and repealing archaic ordinances. For example,

I believe the city council went too far by passing and enforcing an ordinance regulating the height of grass on people’s private front & backyards.

Similarly, the ordinance that will regulate people’s abilities to park vehicles on their own lawn, and dictate how much of the private property can be paved is outlandish.

Lastly, I believe that we should be able to legally discharge fireworks on major holidays, as long as a burn ban is not in place.

4. If elected, what steps would you take to make sure that you are accessible to your constituents?

I check my work email and voicemail multiple times throughout the day. Furthermore, I would be more than happy to provide a public Zoom URL for citizens to schedule a remote meeting with me.

SAM HALABI

1. Why are you running for Harker Heights City Council?

I want to contribute to the qualitative growth of the city and participate in policy decisions that benefit the city and our community. As someone who is already active on the social and commercial fronts, I see being on the Council as a learning opportunity to understand the hardships that our residents face day-to-day.

2. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 challenges facing the city?

First, for 20 years, I have watched the city’s direction in its economic and social changes and they will continue.

Second, a State-supported solution to the property tax exemption for disabled veterans that will ease the burden on the City. I want to make it clear that I am in support of helping veterans with disabilities.

Finally, The limited space in the city of Harker Heights and the surrounding area make us creative about more development and activities inside the City to generate more income through taxes.

3. If elected, what single issue would be your top priority?

I have faced many hardships to get where I am and sure many people are experiencing the same struggles that I went through. I feel like I can personally relate to their concerns.

I believe my role as a councilman will help establish the city’s direction in economic and social changes that will be occuring throughout the years.

4. If elected, what steps would you take to make sure that you are accessible to your constituents?

As a businessman for 30 years in our area, I can use the insight and relationships I have acquired with the people of the City Staff to understand better what problems the community is facing, furthermore tackling the complexity of the City.

JEFFREY HARRIS

1. Why are you running for Harker Heights City Council?

It’s not about giving back, it’s about giving. Being an active part of your community is paramount. My 22 years of military service and tenure with the Department of Homeland Security Terrorism Task Force has equipped me with a myriad of experience to assist our council.

I am a subject matter expert in Consequence Management specializing in strategic and organizational operations. It helps as a productive member of society to strengthen one’s community for which I love.

2. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 challenges facing the city?

Our city’s viability is dependent upon businesses. Amid the COVID-19 epidemic, revenue has been lost for businesses and the city as a whole.

One initiative would be to work towards the promotion and stimulation of existing and new innovative entrepreneurships.

Balancing the budget is always a challenge and making great efforts in reducing the city’s debt.

Thirdly, aspire to prevent the burden of a tax increase to the citizens of Harker Heights.

3. If elected, what single issue would be your top priority?

My priority has shifted after working with State Representative Brad Buckley as he filed a bill, H.B. 125, to include additional communities into the 100% disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption program.

Therefore, a two-part answer: Public safety. Ensuring our first responders have the training and equipment to protect our citizens and keep themselves safe.

The vicious snow and ice storm has left our streets and roads in dire straits and working towards prioritizing repairs to our infrastructure.

4. If elected, what steps would you take to make sure that you are accessible to your constituents?

I am well known in Harker Heights because I am a people person and involved. Whether its neighborhood crime watch, Rotary, city functions and council meetings, I am there. As an effective council member one must be available approachable, accountable and have an attentive ear listening to the citizens.

When seen in public, I want the citizens to know I represent them and feel free to have a conversation.

STACEY WILSON

1. Why are you running for Harker Heights City Council?

As the spouse of a retired veteran for 28 years and a self-employed entrepreneur for 21 years, I believe I bring a unique set of experiences to serve our community.

I am running for Harker Heights City Council, Place 5 to make a difference in my community, to improve the safety, transparency and revenue of our city, and be a voice for all concerned citizens of Harker Heights.

2. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 challenges facing the city?

My top three concerns are Safety, Transparency and Revenue.

3. If elected, what single issue would be your top priority?

Safety is my number one priority! I will work to ensure our community implements preventative safety measures by advocating for more sidewalks, street lights, neighborhood speed enforcement and Drug Prevention Programs: which will create more safe conditions for our school-age children and adult constituents. As well as insure that our first responders have what they need to decrease violent and personal property crimes. In addition, we need more activities for our youth that are safe and diverse.

4. If elected, what steps would you take to make sure that you are accessible to your constituents?

This is also a part of my platform, transparency in city government.

I plan to make myself available to my constituents via town hall meetings and by participating in community events.

I would also like to help make our city council meetings more accessible through streaming services.

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