Every new year brings with it both potential problems and possibilities, obstacles and opportunities.
This has never been more true than with the arrival of 2022.
Looking back on the year just ended, Killeen-area residents are justifiably gratified by an economy that hasn’t just held its own, but instead has shown substantial growth. Sales tax numbers have topped pre-pandemic levels, including a record allocation for Killeen, and the city’s hotel tax revenue also reached record levels last month.
Residents can also be thankful that the COVID-19 pandemic never caused a shutdown in our local school districts during 2021. Nor did it force cancellation of graduations or sporting events, as it did the previous year.
Most local restaurants and retail outlets operated at normal capacity, though they did take precautions such as social distancing and masking to curb the spread of the virus.
Perhaps most importantly, during 2021, several effective vaccines became available to Killeen-area residents, helping to restore confidence that the coronavirus could be defeated, or at least halted in the near future.
Still, the virus proved deadly for some residents in the past year. A total of nearly 600 Bell County residents died of the coronavirus in 2021.
Now, with the arrival of omicron — the latest COVID-19 variant — residents’ concerns are again heightened. The variant has shown some resistance to previously effective vaccines and is wreaking havoc across the nation. Though omicron doesn’t appear to be as deadly as previous variants, residents are understandably concerned that a dramatic surge in case numbers locally could result in a return to 2020-style restrictions — or worse.
Needless to say, the renewed advance of the virus and our community’s ability to curb its spread will be major factors in how the coming year unfolds.
Another variable that must be considered is the weather.
Last year’s severe winter storm knocked out power to thousands of Central Texans — some for nearly a week — caused burst pipes across the region and contributed to the fire that destroyed a four-story Killeen hotel.
In the aftermath of the historic February storm, area cities were left with heavily damaged roads, with Killeen roadways alone sustaining damage requiring an estimated $40 million in needed repairs.
Broken pipes caused water damage to dozens of schools as well, with 40 buildings in Killeen ISD requiring repairs. Damage to 27 of the buildings was described as “significant,” with three schools forced to delay their reopening to accommodate the extensive repair work.
Despite a warmer-than-average weather so far this winter, residents can be forgiven if they are anxiously watching the forecast over the next three months, as a repeat of last year’s dangerous storm could prove devastating for the community.
Putting aside these legitimate concerns, Killeen-area residents do have some positive developments to look forward to in the coming year.
The community will soon celebrate the opening of the first phase of the National Mounted Warfare Museum, just outside Fort Hood’s main gate. A soft opening for the new 28,700-square-foot museum is planned in late spring and a grand opening in summer after interior displays are in place, Prior to that, the museum will host several events, beginning in March.
Later this year, the Killeen school district will officially open its fifth traditional high school — Chaparral High School — in time for the 2022-2023 school year. The new state-of-the-art school in southeast Killeen will help to ease overcrowding, eliminating the need for portable classrooms at the high school level by the start of the 2023 school year.
Also this year, Killeen will break ground on a 370-unit high-end apartment complex in northern Killeen that will offer a portion of its units to lower income residents. It could be the start of a major renaissance in that part of town. The building of a nearby grocery store near 38th Street and Rancier Avenue is expected to be announced in the coming weeks as well.
Killeen-area residents also will have several opportunities to weigh in at the polls, beginning with county, state and national primary elections in March, followed by city and school board elections in May and midterm national elections in November. Killeen residents will be asked to choose a mayor and three at-large city council members, as well as decide the fate of several proposed changes to the city charter.
No doubt, some challenges will carry over from 2021.
For example, crime continues to be a problem in Killeen, where 18 criminal homicides were recorded since the start of 2021 — a drop from 26 criminal homicides in 2020. Though the numbers have dropped in other crime categories as well, incidents such as the Dec. 7 shooting of a man inside a store in the Killeen Mall have raised concerns about the level of armed violence in the city.
The city also faces the loss of another airline, as United Airlines will suspend its service to Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport on Tuesday. The decision — which will terminate three daily flights to Houston — is part of the airline’s larger strategy to restructure its service model. Bryan-College Station’s airport is also losing United service this week.
Delta Airlines terminated its service to Killeen in January 2018.
Meanwhile, the Killeen school district continues to grapple with staffing shortages. As of last week, the district was in desperate need of teachers and bus drivers.
As of late October, the district was short by more than 250 teachers. Another 57 teachers notified they were leaving just before Christmas break. The district is holding a job fair this week and has instituted incentive plans to boost teacher hiring, but the shortfall is likely to continue to be a challenge well into the new year — as it is for many districts nationwide.
No doubt, challenges will arise this year that were not foreseen. It will be up to us, as a community, to remain engaged and prepared to do what is necessary to address them.
If this pandemic era has taught us one thing, it’s that we cannot afford to just sit back and watch events unfold.
Our challenge — as individuals, and collectively — is to respond in a way that pushes us forward, not holds us back. That can be a tall order, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
But if we’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s that we can all pull together for the good of the community.
That’s certainly a great strategy to continue in the year to come.