In a vote which brought cheers from the crowd at the July 12 meeting of the governing body of Blanco, council members approved waiving water and sewer fees for the Blanco State Park for the next 24 months. Jo Nell Haas, who has spearheaded the Save the Blanco State Park movement, reminded council members that the city pledged in February to do everything in its power to help save the park from closure. Interim Park Superintendent Jimmy Rodriguez said, “I’m trying to get the park to where it’s stable,” reiterating figures presented earlier to council that the park costs $350,000 per year to operate, with revenues a little over $300,000. Appeals to IESI and PEC for reduced garbage and utility rates have fallen on deaf ears, explained the park spokespeople. In answer to council questions about reductions in personnel, Rodriguez explained that two positions—assistant manager and Ranger 2—are currently unfilled. Although the city currently gives the park a $4800 discount per year on utilities, the costs for garbage, water, and sewer are approximately $13,000 per year. Rodriguez explained that any aid must be in the form of a two-year contract. Council member Danny Ray asserted, “We should do more than [give] moral support.” Council member Al Turner made a motion to waive water and sewer fees for a period of two years, followed by a second by Ray and a unanimous vote of support. The city has already made the decision to buy its water from Canyon Lake in order to keep the Blanco River running through the park, which brings revenue to the city from campers and provides a place to fish, swim, and picnic.
A request by local motel owner Ralph de Leon to allow golf carts on the public streets of Blanco sparked a lively discussion, which included remarks from Police Chief Milton Willmann and City Attorney Eddy Rogers. De Leon’s proposal, which coincides with a state statute limiting operation of carts to streets with a posted speed limit of no more than 35 miles per hour, cited fuel efficiency and the economy of driving a cart as opposed to a car. The fact that golf cart operation does not require a valid driver’s license led Rogers to cite public safety concerns, including their use by teenagers. The issue was tabled with the understanding that council, Rogers, Chief Willmann, and de Leon would draft an ordinance that would address issues such as minimum age and acceptable routes. The fact that residents of the senior apartments on Blanco Avenue drive their motorized wheelchairs back and forth to Super S factored into the discussion.
Blanco Emergency Services Director Mike West came before council for the second time to request $60,000 to remount ambulance Unit 214, which is ten years old and has become unreliable. He brought five bids and a 2010 financial audit. He pointed out that 54 percent of all calls come from the city, with 46 percent from the county. Walk-in patients from the city have made EMS headquarters “a little med clinic,” in West’s words. Compounding the financial straits of the service is the low rate of payment for transport (35%) coupled with low reimbursement payments from Medicare, Medicaid, the VA. “We are invoicing people, but we are behind,” said West. “We are at the point where we need a lump sum” for purchase of the unit, which would take a number of months to acquire. Mayor Homan advised West to bring his information to the budget workshops later in July. West also announced a blood drive on July 30 at Super S from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Council approved a resolution and cooperation agreement with the Texas Housing Foundation to pursue purchasing property in the city of Blanco to build low-income apartments. Representative Susan Hamm and CEO Mark Mayfield explained that the housing is not subsidized, that residents must pay rent and utilities, and that the grounds of each complex are meticulously groomed. “Our motto is ’To raise the standard of living’,” said Mayfield. When possible, a law enforcement officer lives in a unit in the community free of charge. The number of people in a unit depends on the number of bedrooms; for example, a one-bedroom unit can only house two people; a three bedroom, six people. “It’s a new way of looking at housing,” continued Mayfield; “it makes a community within itself.” Each community includes a community resource center, and when the community reaches 100 units, non-profits can be housed there. The agreement the city signs states that the area is in need of low-income housing. Hamm also stressed that the construction of the units brings jobs to the Hill Country and that Texas Housing Foundation communities are the largest users of public utilities in their cities. In answer to a question of location, she said that the owners of three parcels have expressed an interest.
Council also issued a Fair Housing Proclamation as part of the Civil Rights Act, declaring July Fair Housing Month and approved an Excessive Force Policy Resolution allowing free assembly.
Blanco Chamber of Commerce Director Penny Thomas presented an Economic Impact Analysis of the lavender festival prepared by LCRA, which found the economic impact of the festival to be $462,341. Over 20,000 people attended, of whom over 17,000 were non-local. The average stay in Blanco was 1.56 days, resulting in over $222,000 revenue to restaurants, over $150,000 to lodging establishments, and $89,183 in retail sales. The figures were based on surveys distributed July 10-12 during the festival. Survey results showed that most people heard about the festival online. Council members also reviewed and approved a resolution presented by Thomas, a member of the Blanco County Economic Development Corporation, by which the city “endorses/formally adopts an economic development program and effort.”
Tony Vela, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, reported that P&Z was unable to hold the first of two required public hearings to adopt a signage ordinance at its meeting July 5. Not all members of the commission had copies of the proposed ordinance, although Connie Barron had been sent a copy by former chair Dana LeBlanc. The final draft of the ordinance had not yet been posted on the city’s official web site (cityofblanco.com) so the public had not had the opportunity to view it. He reported that a request for a variance by Zocalo Café to put up a temporary directional sign on Highway 281 on weekends was withdrawn after a suggestion was made that the manager work with the Blanco Chamber of Commerce to develop multi-business “way-finding” signs at crucial intersections. In its final order of business, P&Z decided to keep the meeting time and date the same on the first Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m.
Blanco Historic Preservation Commission chair Retta Martin presented her annual report to the city, saying that the commission has been working on lighting, signage, and design guidelines and is ready to present them to P&Z. She invited council to attend a workshop on July18 at 6 p.m. at the Blanco Library to review the guidelines. A representative of the Texas Historic Commission will be there. She presented three candidates for appointment or re-appointment to the commission—Amy Petri, Jim Raby, and herself. She also introduced Jack Twilly, who has been working with the commission on the Streetscaping Project. He reported that the committee has been meeting monthly and is currently at a standstill, with only one-third of the needed funds raised. The committee has decided to make the calming of Highway 281 a separate project and to use “in-house folks”—local architects and city planners.
Police Chief Willmann reported that the numbers were up in June, with 178 calls. He credits the higher number of suspicious persons/vehicle calls with a decrease in burglaries, although there was a recent serious burglary at Main and 9th Streets. He called assaults “cyclical” but said disturbances are down. Officers wrote 84 tickets and issued 55 written warnings to motorists. In executive session, council members considered a recommendation by Willmann for a new officer position on the Blanco police force—a Patrol Corporal position. As Willmann explained to this reporter, this person would serve as his assistant and could be someone for officers to take their questions and concerns to. In open session council members voted to create the position but did not appoint anyone to it.
In other business, council approved a request by the Blanco Independent School District to abandon a section of Hackberry Street between 10th and 11th Streets, retaining a utility easement. The district wishes to use the area to expand the bus yard and agreed to put in a gate with a combination to give the city access for utility work.
Council also approved a bid by Blacktoppers for a $42,700 paving project contingent on the inclusion of 13th Street in the bid and approved plans for two ADA-compliant ramps—one on 3rd Street and one on Pecan outside the Byars Building. A Consumer Confidence Report was distributed to members, and a GASB 54 Resolution was approved.