- Written by Priscilla Seals
- Published Jun. 22, 2016
At their regular meeting on June 14, members of the governing body of Blanco re-elected council member Martin Sauceda to a second term as Mayor Pro Tempore. Prior to the regular meeting, a Public Hearing was held for citizens to ask any questions about the process by which the city applies for a Texas Community Development Block Grant. Margaret Hardin of Langford Community Management Services explained the eligibility requirements for a Community Development Fund grant, which would enable the city to make improvements in its water and wastewater systems. The application deadline is February 1, 2017. The city has received past grants, including one in 2007 for Disaster Recovery in the wake of flooding, and another for the current year. The maximum grant request and matching amount is set by the Regional Review Committee. Blanco is part of the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) region.
In the Open Comments portion of the meeting, Blanco Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau director Libbey Aly thanked the city and the police department for their help during the Lavender Festival. She reported that the festival doubled its revenue over past years, with more vendors and visitors from as far away as Turkey, Germany, Puerto Rico, and Alaska. She also noted the increase in young families with children, mentioning St. Ferdinand’s Catholic Church, which sponsored children’s activities. Volunteer coordinator Sandy Switzer thanked all the volunteers and praised the efforts of Aly, who she said “represents the city very well.”
A Keep Texas Beautiful past president and board member, Joanne Weik, presented the Sadie Ray Graff Award to Blanco Middle School science teacher Pam Meier, for her work with students, engaging them and encouraging them to support global ecology. A 22-year veteran of Blanco Middle School, Meier’s projects include a vegetable garden on the campus, rainwater harvesting, and composting. Weik called Meier “a stellar example of what we do,” which she characterized as “educating and engaging citizens to take responsibility for their environment.” Meier has a Master of Arts in Teaching in the field of global ecology. Meier thanked her principal for her support. She brought a small bag of cherry tomatoes, grown in the school garden, for each council member. She also thanked council member and Keep Blanco Beautiful member Martha Gosnell for submitting her application for the award, which is supported by HEB, the Farm Bureau, and Rainwater Revival.
In his Mayor’s Comments, Bruce Peele recounted that at a special meeting in May, city council approved the initial steps toward building a new wastewater plant at a cost of $3.2 million. Completion time is estimated at two years. He said the city will be replacing water pipes in low-income areas of the city, with the side benefit of road improvements in those areas. He informed council members that the Safe Routes to School grant will kick in shortly and that the city is continuing to appeal to FEMA for $107K in funds denied the city as a result of water the city had to purchase in the wake of last year’s flooding of the Blanco River. He announced an Executive Session to determine whether the city should pursue litigation against the developer of Cielo Springs for failure to install a pump to increase water pressure in the development.
Following Executive Session, council approved two motions, one to authorize the Allen Bojorquez Law Firm to pursue litigation against the developer of Cielo Springs, and the second to authorize the mayor to engage in settlement discussions with the defendants in the case. Mayor Peele explained that any decision would have to be approved by city council.
In the first order of Old Business, City Manager Lambert Little explained a request by Progressive Waste Solutions for a rate increase. He said the contract allows for a Consumer Price Index-based increase, which he called “modest—approximately 14 cents a month per customer” to be absorbed by the city until the budget workshops, which will probably result in increases for water and wastewater services. Council approved the increase, which was to take effect June 1.
In the second order of Old Business, council voted to award a contract for paving streets in the Garden Oaks subdivision to Available Construction and Transport Services at a cost of $19,500 for pothole and edge repair and $50,880 for a single course of chip-seal. City engineer Jason Jones and public works director Ronnie Rodriguez concurred that a single course will be sufficient.
American Legion Memorial Highway Post 352 Chaplain Joe Garcia came before council to encourage citizens to display American flags on Independence Day. The American Legion has purchased flags to display around the square, and members of Boy Scout Troop 497 will assist in placing them. The mayor read a resolution and also issued the following proclamation, approved by city council: “I, Mayor Bruce Peele, by the authority vested in me by the City of Blanco, do hereby proclaim the 4th of July, 2016, as Patriotic Remembrance Day, a day of voluntarily displaying American flags around the Blanco City Square and throughout the City and its Environs. I urge all businesses, organizations, and citizens across Blanco to support these efforts in honoring our men and women who gave their tomorrows for the ideals we value today—the ideals of freedom, justice, and democracy—and to celebrate the nation we hold so dear.” The proclamation was signed by the mayor and the city seal was put on it. Council approved the resolution and proclamation.
Next council voted to authorize the mayor, Mayor Pro-Tem, and the city administrator to consult with the city’s financial advisors, Wells Nelson, as to the best way to finance construction of the new wastewater treatment plant. Mayor Peele explained that any information would be presented to city council for their consideration.
As recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission, council members ratified the appointment of council member Martha Gosnell as liaison to the signage subcommittee. They also approved a HOT funds grant to Twin Sisters Dance Hall for $2500 for advertising July Fourth events planned there, including live music by Bobby Flores, a Buggy Barn parade, and food provided by Old 300 Barbecue. Members of the HOT Funds Advisory Committee recommended awarding the grant. For documenting purposes, Haas said that students will be giving out surveys to those attending as to whether they will be spending the night, and a post-event report will be filed. Council member Maria Guerrero encouraged Haas to make sure local hotels and motels keep a record of attendees who spend the night.
City administrator Lambert Little next distributed copies of proposed amendments to the city’s Personnel Policy. He explained that many changes had been suggested by employees themselves. After hearing the proposed changes, council approved them.
Public Works Director Ronnie Rodriguez explained the next agenda item, requesting that the city charge a $35 inspection fee of a dwelling’s water system at the time the property changes hands. He said the intent is to ensure good water quality by making sure all connections within the home are secure and that water doesn’t leak back into the city’s water system, also that there are no old lead pipes. Previously the city received notice of a violation from TCEQ for improper record-keeping of these inspections. After lengthy discussion, the motion passed by a three-two margin, with Martin Sauceda and Maria Guerrero opposing it. Sauceda thought the increase should be included as part of new rates in next year’s budget.
Two amendments to the UDC were approved by council, one that allows the Blanco Historic Commission to extend the time it has to consider the Certificate of Appropriateness for historic buildings, and one, Ordinance 2016-0-006, to “promote and encourage the preservation of parkland and open space,” Attachment “A” to Section 5.11 of the UDC, “is intended to prevent the indiscriminate cutting of trees in advance of development, to require the consideration of trees as a component of site design, and to allow for the commercially reasonable development of private property subject to minimum standards for the preservation and planting of trees.” Mayor Peele explained two situations which prompted this ordinance—the cutting of a heritage oak at a construction site for the Blanco Library expansion, and a proposed high-density housing development on Trainer Street, which would have involved cutting large oak trees.
A request by the Arts in the Park committee for $5500 for a Fall Series was approved by city council by a 4-1 vote, with Maria Guerrero voting in opposition. The funds would be transferred from the Land Acquisition Fund to allow the money to be spent out of this fiscal year’s budget. Arts in the Park committee member Jack Twilley explained that the committee needs the money now in order to book acts for the fall series.
Mayor Peele presented council with a draft of a letter he is preparing to send to Blanco County Judge Bray explaining why the city will not pay the county the requested $38,500 for dispatch services. He explained that the city pays a voluntary contribution toward the service and is not obligated to pay for it. In response to a request for an opinion, Police Chief Mike Ritchey said, “It’s a slippery slope. Once we acknowledge that we are paying a fee, then they can raise it.”Council also approved an ordinance modifying the school zone speed limit from 35 to 30 miles an hour.
Mayor Peele, based on Public Information Requests in regard to HOT Funds, gave council a packet of information tracing the history of the Hotel Occupancy Tax from its beginning in 1986, including city council meeting minutes, bank statements, and e-mails. Council members suggested that they would like time to look at the information before making any decisions on the future of HOT funds.
Police Chief Mike Ritchey reported an increase in calls for service to 495 for the month of May, explaining that they get higher in the summer. He said his department issued 26 tickets for unlicensed drivers, a statistic that he called “worse and worse.” He praised the district attorney for moving quickly on the charges against the couple in Blanco whose actions resulted in the death of a baby and the removal of two older children to foster care. Because the charge against the couple was elevated to Capital Murder, Chief Ritchey concluded, “I don’t see them ever coming out of jail.”
Following a second Executive Session, council voted to negotiate a land swap with land in Bindseil Park, giving Pat Smith first right of refusal.