Mayor, City Council Express Appreciation to Community for Disaster Response
In his first public comments as mayor of Blanco, Bruce Peele said he was "blown away by the outpouring of good will that occurred" in the response of the Blanco community to the Memorial Day Flood.
"I want to thank everybody for their tremendous efforts,"he said, enumerating groups such as Emergency Management personnel, the National Guard, city council members, and various volunteer organizations.
He also extended condolences to the family of deceased council member Al Turner, who died on May 13 after a courageous battle with cancer. Finally, he expressed appreciation to Mayor Chuck Homan, former council member Danny Ray, and resigning City Attorney Eddy Rogers for their service.
Peele tied up some loose ends from the previous administration by announcing that bids for a blower system to reduce contaminants in the city's water will be let in the next 30 days, a process expedited by the flooding of the Blanco River.
A Consumer Confidence Report showing no violations of chlorine levels in the city's water during 2014 has been posted on the city's website — cityofblanco.com — and the mayor expressed confidence that the new blower system will alleviate the city's water issues. He also announced that a separate account to handle Hotel-Motel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds has been set up, with an initial deposit of $1,000. The city's accountants are examining the withheld funds ("Rainy Day" fund) to enable that money to be deposited into the HOT Funds account.
As part of the city's recovery, patching holes in the streets has already begun, and plans to chip-seal all the city streets are underway, according to the mayor. A decision has been made to hire four Blanco High School students as summer employees, helping out city staff and working with the utilities department. The job openings, which will provide local students with some money this summer, will be posted in the Blanco County News.
Finally, the mayor announced that a separate Disaster Fund has been set up through Good Samaritan Center, which has tax-exempt status. A committee of volunteers will specify the procedures and criteria for receiving disaster funds during the first year. Good Samaritan Center Treasurer Kee Hudson informed this reporter that money was distributed to flood victims in the form of cash as soon as possible after the disaster in order for them to have money in their pockets to purchase necessities. Before the June 7 Benefit Concert, the fund had approximately $32K in donations in it.
Council member Bobby McClung, whose musical contacts brought together the artists who performed at the Old 300 Flood Relief Concert on June 7, began his accounting of the events leading up to the concert with a personal experience.
As he recalled, soon after he moved to Blanco in 1990, his house burned to the ground, leaving him and his family with nothing.
"I was impressed by the outpouring of sympathy and help from relative strangers," he said. "It is one reason why I feel so connected to this city." In a matter of days he, along with a small group of volunteers and the support of businesses including Old 300 Barbecue, Real Ale Brewery, Jim Raby's Rivalry Screen Printing and Graphics, and the Buggy Barn's chuck wagon put together the event, which requested a $10 donation. "There was an incredible amount of coordination," said McClung.
Although the final figures are not yet available, McClung said the response was so large that the event had to be moved outside, with over 1500 attendees and over $30,000 raised so far, including revenue from a silent auction and T-shirt and poster sales.
He was particularly touched by the contributions of the employees of Old 300 Barbecue, who donated over $700 in tips. "I was impressed by the way people pulled together—it showed what we can do when we cooperate in a collaborative spirit and get things done for Blanco," concluded McClung.
In the Public Comments portion of the meeting, Susan Moore, who resides with her husband at 390 Blanco Avenue, complained that road improvements and drainage culverts installed in 2006 have contributed to water "inundating" her property and the Blanco Senior Apartments. She said that she was told by Mayor Peele that the culverts were on private property and were not permitted by the city at the time of their construction. She also referred to Blanco's Unified Development Code, which addressed the city's responsibility to protect homeowners from flooding. Blanco Senior Apartments manager Barbara Mechelle notified council that five of the seven buildings in the complex had water in them in the wake of recent flooding, forcing elderly residents to move furniture and find alternate temporary housing. She echoed Moore's concern that "Seniors should not live in fear of city drainage flooding their homes."
In the Old Business portion of the meeting, council members voted to deny a request by Keller Consulting to vacate 14th Street between Mesquite Street and Greenlawn Parkway and dedicate it to the adjacent land owners. Explaining council's action, Bobby McClung said the request has been denied before and the proposed use of the land has never been stated.
Council members debated the merits of two financial advisors to represent the City of Blanco regarding refinancing the city's 2006 general obligation bonds to achieve a reduction in debt service. Lindsay Nelson presented council with a packet of her findings, advocating the use of U.S. Capital Advisors, a Texas-based group.
McClung reminded council that a committee composed of three council members had vetted a number of financial institutions and had recommended Wells-Nelson Financial Advisors. The vote split two to two, with Maria Guerrero and Nelson voting for US Capital Advisors and McClung and Martin Sauceda voting for Wells-Nelson. The mayor broke the tie with his vote for Wells-Nelson. In a related vote, council unanimously chose the McCall law firm to represent the city in refinancing the 2006 general obligation bonds based on its #1 ranking in Texas and #3 ranking in the nation in bond offerings.
The first order of new business was to choose a mayor Pro Tempore for the next year, and council voted unanimously for Martin Sauceda. Council also voted unanimously to re-appoint Municipal Judge Don Barnett, Jr., for a two-year term. Barnett stated, "It has been an honor to serve the people of Blanco for 13 years." The mayor affirmed that he has attended Municipal Court and that Barnett "does a great job", particularly with youthful offenders. Two other appointments were approved by council. Martha Gosnell will succeed the mayor as chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and Amil Baker will assume duties as the new Vice-Chairperson of P&Z. Council also voted to adopt Resolution 2015-408 requesting that the Blanco Central Appraisal District reappraise properties in the County of Blanco affected by the recent Historic Flooding as authorized by Texas Tax Code 23.02.
In a move which many consider long overdue, P&Z has been working to correct portions of the first five chapters of the Unified Development Code. Council voted to accept their recommendations, which relate to the signage ordinance, staff responsibilities as liaisons to city's advisory committees, and other issues. Bobby McClung joked that he was glad that live music can now be played till 12 midnight as opposed to 12 noon, an error in the original document. Martha Gosnell reported that P&Z will be considering the issue of requests for very small houses in Blanco.
Fire department spokesperson Jack Twilley reported that the department had 25 runs in May, one-third of which were rescues. As of June 1 the department will be manned round the clock, with fire personnel working 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Paid fire fighters from Blanco have been re-hired. A number of search-and-rescue personnel were headquartered at the fire station during the recent flooding, said Twilley, adding that they cleaned the building "top to bottom."
He concluded by saying that Home Depot is interested in rehabbing the station, which he said is badly in need of repair. Home Depot is also planning repairs to the EMS building, which flooded. Bobby McClung thanked Twilley for the use of the department's tables and chairs during the Relief Concert, and Mayor Peele thanked him for the use of the fire station as the first command post in the wake of the flooding.
Retta Martin reported for the Blanco Historic Commission, saying that two Certificates of Appropriateness were granted at their last meeting. Wearing her Keep Blanco Beautiful hat, she said that Bindseil Park is "looking great" for the upcoming Lavender Festival. And for the Streetscape project, she said that the architect's plan for curbing must have a seal on it before bids can be let for curbing on the north side of the square.
In the absence of Police Chief Mike Ritchey, Officer Jerry Thornhill reported in increase of 214 calls from last year at this time as well as increase in "assist agency" calls. Recently there has been a decrease in business checks due to the injury of an officer. Mayor Peele thanked the department fort their help with both the flooding and the benefit concert.
Following Executive Sesson council voted to appoint Allen Bojorquez as the new City Attorney. Two nominees for Assistant City Attorney—Jim Harris and Colleen Burke Davis--will be voted on later. Mayor Peele said that there are four applicants for the council seat left vacant by Al Turner's death—Matt Lewis, Paul Lukich, Tony Vela, and Bharat Patel. A special meeting will be held Tuesday, June 16, at 5:05 p.m. to discuss the applications. Finally, council voted to remove probationary status for city employee Jessica Gardner and to give her a raise of $1 per hour.