The year just ending was one of unexpected developments.
During the course of 2019, Killeen’s city manager retired, the city’s homeless shelter halted operations for two months, the regional bus service faced significant revenue-driven cutbacks, and two longtime north Killeen grocery stores closed their doors.
In addition, Copperas Cove residents found out late in the year that their troubled third-party water billing company was going out of business.
However, the Central Texas community once again showed its resiliency.
Killeen had a new city manager in place quickly, as former Leander City Manager Kent Cagle was hired by the City Council in October and started work in Killeen on Nov. 3, just over a month after former City Manager Ron Olson retired from the post.
For many Killeen-area residents, the Friends in Crisis homeless shelter’s closing on May 18 came as a shock. Most had learned just days earlier of the downtown shelter’s financial struggles, chiefly due to the loss of about $165,000 in grant money. As a tent city sprang up on the closed shelter’s lawn, several churches, groups and individuals provided the homeless with assistance. Meanwhile, officials with the shelter’s umbrella nonprofit organization, Families in Crisis, worked to secure enough pledges, donations and block grant funds to provide operating capital for the shelter, which reopened July 26.
The closing of two of the city’s longtime grocery stores — the H-E-B on Gray Street in downtown Killeen and the IGA Foodliner on East Rancier Avenue — also came as an unwelcome surprise for north Killeen residents. The stores’ closings left the city with no full-service grocery stores north of Interstate 14, with the exception of Delicias Meat Market on Veterans Memorial Boulevard. And although H-E-B has operated a mobile food pantry on the closed store’s site, that operation is scheduled to end soon. Obviously, residents who frequented the stores will have to make other accommodations in the new year.
Riders of the HOP, the regional bus service, were spared potential service cuts in 2019 when the Killeen City Council voted to increase the city’s annual allocation by $100,000. Representatives from Hill Country Transit District had warned that cuts to city routes and service hours would be necessary if the budget request was not met. That threat has abated, at least for this year.
Copperas Cove residents may have been surprised — as well as somewhat relieved — to learn in early November that Fathom, the city’s third-party water billing contractor, would be ceasing operations at the end of the month.
The city’s relationship with Fathom had been difficult since officials inked a 15-year contract with the Arizona-based firm in 2016, calling for the contractor to handle water service issues such as starting and ending service, billing inquiries, payment arrangements and customer complaints.
Early on, the city became aware of a problem, as residents frequently complained of abnormally high bills, service disruptions and difficulty contacting customer service representatives.
As the city enters 2020, Cove officials are making plans to take over the city’s water billing, including hiring more staff for Utility Administration and expanding the department’s work area in City Hall — an arrangement that is likely to meet with approval from most Cove residents.
Killeen Independent School District residents saw changes popping up around the area during 2019, as the district moved forward with $426 million in construction projects authorized by voters in 2018. The district in August opened a new elementary school, Maude Moore Wood, which was not financed by bond money, but during 2020, the district plans to open the new Nolan Middle School on Warriors Path in Harker Heights, while closing the old school by the same name at Jasper and Florence roads in Killeen.
Before any of the district’s school bond construction projects reach completion, however, district voters may be faced with yet another bond issue next spring.
The district’s bond steering committee this month agreed to recommend a two-part, $265 million bond issue to the school board. As proposed, the potential bond would include the construction of two new elementary schools, the rebuilding of Harker Heights and Peebles elementary schools, the renovation of Ellison High School and upgrades to the athletic stadiums at Shoemaker, Ellison and Harker Heights high schools.
The school board is expected to decide Jan. 14 on whether to put the bond issue on the May ballot, as well as what changes to make, if any.
Several sobering issues made headlines in 2019, and many of them will carry over into the new year.
As of Friday, Killeen had recorded 15 criminal homicides for the year, more than double the number reported in 2018. Violent crime in general was a concern of many Killeen residents, and crime was a frequent topic of community forums conducted throughout the year. Look for those forums — and that community concern — to continue in the new year.
The controversy surrounding no-knock police warrants continued to swirl in 2019, with the shooting death of a Killeen man on Feb. 27 during a no-knock raid on Hallmark Avenue. The investigation into the shooting was closed in November, with a former SWAT team member receiving a probated sentence for tampering with evidence.
Meanwhile, the man charged with killing a Killeen police detective during a no-knock raid in 2014 is still awaiting trial. Jury selection was scheduled to begin next month for Marvin Guy’s capital murder trial, but a medical issue is likely to push his March trial date back once again.
The past year also featured some pleasant developments that made us proud.
Killeen resident Rose Short sang her way to the finals on the popular NBC TV show “The Voice,” finishing fourth out of 44 contestants in the show that concluded Dec. 17.
The Lampasas Badgers football team made team history this month, advancing to the state 4A semifinals before bowing out.
And there were some gratifying events — such as the unaccompanied burial at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery that drew more than 2,000 people from all over the state in late January. The huge crowd showed up to pay their respects to a 72-year-old Air Force veteran after word spread that he had no family or friends to attend.
Looking ahead to 2020, it’s likely that politics will dominate the news — with state primaries in March, city and school board elections in May and a national election in November — not to mention an election for the area’s regional water district board — it’s likely to be a blur of campaign ads, flyers and yard signs for much of the year.
Of course, we can’t forget the issues of growth and development, city budget priorities, school district spending and military policy.
It’s hard to predict what will happen in any of these arenas. Indeed, we can and should expect the unexpected.
But we shouldn’t just sit back and watch the year unfold.
We must also be prepared to help bring about positive developments in the coming year, by staying engaged and making our voices heard to our elected representatives.
It’s a new year, a new decade — and a new opportunity to make our community better.