The Blanco County Commissioners Court held two meetings on Tuesday, November 27, 2012, and all four commissioners were present. The first meeting was held at 9:00 am and addressed the GovDeals bid of $2,625.00 for the 2002 green Crown Victoria. No action was taken at the present time.
The second meeting opened at 10:30 am, also with all four commissioners present. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss information relative to the Capitol Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) transportation and economic development plan for Blanco County to facilitate groundwork planning. Two members of CAPCOG had addressed the court previously during the November 13 meeting.
The Blanco County Transportation and Economic Development Plan will offer a two dimensional approach with a focus on both economic and transportation planning. Mr. David Fowler, senior planner of CAPCOG told the court, “Blanco County is unique because they are the first county to include both economic and transportation factors in planning.”
Fowler opened the discussion, saying, “We will focus on developing divide and conquer strategies that will work well for you.” He introduced the “key personnel” who would work closely with the prospective advisory committee. The key personnel include Mark Sweeney, Betty Voight, and David Fowler of CAPCOG, Liz Presswood of TxDOT, and Greg Griffin of Texas A&M Information Institute.
According to Fowler, the first order of business would be to establish a county point of contact. This individual would assist the advisory committee, attend all public and advisory meetings, advise the group of potential political or sensitive issues, and act as the principal county liaison, or the “go to person.” County Judge Bill Guthrie answered he would indeed be willing to step up and serve as the point of contact, and Commissioner Chris Liesmann told the Judge, “I’ll help you.”
Fowler explained the functions of the advisory committee, and provided suggestions for prospective members. According to Fowler, “these citizens and representatives of the county will provide a secure base for our planning.” Responsibilities of advisory committee members will include attendance at all meetings where existing county conditions will be evaluated, assisting in public outreach, helping devise strategies for transportation and economic planning, and forwarding the drafts and plans to the Commissioners Court. Fowler also indicated there would be approximately six to eight meetings from the planning period of January to August; therefore, committee members must be dedicated to the project.
Suggestions from Fowler for potential candidates for this “core group” for the advisory committee should include representatives from county elected officials from Round Mountain, Johnson City, and Blanco. Representatives from school districts, chambers of commerce, utility leaders, city managers, transportation directors, and business and citizen representatives would also provide helpful representation.
Mr. Mark Sweeney, Director of Regional Services of CAPCOG, presented an outline for the Blanco County Transportation and Economic Development Plan production schedule. The timeline for the plan would span approximately nine months, from December 2012 until September 2013. Early phases would include the beginning and completion of existing road condition research, organization of the advisory committee, writing a survey, and holding initial advisory committee meetings.
The intermediate phase would include the first public meeting to gather countywide input, distribution of a survey to facilitate countywide input, beginning selecting projects for plan inclusion, development of economic development goals, and submission of draft road network to advisory committee. Sweeney said this stage would include maps with suggested improvements for economic and transportation development with outline statements with goals.
Sweeney said the final phases would include a second public meeting with recommendations from the committee, a finished draft, any modifications for the final version, and the adoption of the plan. The Commissioners Court would be apprised of the progress of the committee during each phase of the planning.
According to Sweeney, “the public outreach component would include the two public meetings. The first meeting would provide an opportunity to gather information, and the second meeting would offer solutions for the issues presented during the first meeting.”
At this point in the meeting the commissioners were asked to express areas of concern. Commissioner James Sultemeier asked about getting the survey together and what questions to ask. “The difficulty in Blanco County is we have two weekly papers and word of mouth… how to reach all the people?” Judge Guthrie spoke up and said, “We have a small number of active folks that we can expect to hear from, and we do not want to miss everyone else, the other folks.” Commissioner Sultemeier agreed, “I want to hear from everyone I possibly can.”
Fowler offered the possibility of perhaps an extra public meeting in addition to paper surveys to be placed in public places, and Commissioner Liesmann suggested social media might reach a number of people.
Judge Guthrie emphasized that transportation is “certainly a concern to us. Traffic is funneled between 281 and 290, and that’s it. Furthermore, we were contacted a while back about coming up with $60,000 for an expansion project for 281, and we were not included in any planning… we were not contacted until our money was needed.”
The judge also remarked, “Most low-water crossings are not problems for the locals,” and “Bike rallies and wildflower season bring in lots of visitors… this presents challenges for roads with no shoulders and only two lanes.” Fowler agreed, saying his group had noticed a “lack of shoulders on lots of roads,” and also “very scenic roadways in Blanco County.”
Judge Guthrie cited a signage problem on Highway 281 at the Highway 290 turn in Johnson City. He said, “There’s no signage until you come over the hill... this creates a real safety issue for truckers, and the area needs some help.” Commissioner Sultemeier agreed the planning will “take a lot of thought.” Commissioners James Sultemeier and Paul Granberg asked about the inclusion of data from planning by surrounding counties into Blanco County’s planning. Fowler assured them this planning will “not be done under a microscope, but will be connected with the region.”
Other areas discussed were the lack of traffic lights in the entire county and the lack of airport facilities. The need for accurate floodplain work was raised, and Sweeney asked if access to care for critical needs patients was adequate. Commissioner Granberg replied there is “not a lot of clientele demanding services for transporting these patients for medical care such as dialysis.”
Judge Guthrie noted that “a lot of church groups take care of their own… this is a community that takes care of each other.” Sweeney asked if more patients sought medical care in San Antonio or Austin, and Judge Guthrie replied that “it depends on which part of the county they live in. Residents in southern Blanco County tend to go south, and residents in the northern part usually go to Austin and sometimes Fredericksburg.” Sweeney assured the court his group “will explore and research this issue to provide services to those in need… also the need for sidewalks and pedestrians will be considered, because we want the full picture.”
Fowler turned the focus of the presentation to discussion of the economic development plan for Blanco County. He believes the most critical factors affecting economic growth for the county are “all about” opportunities to provide good paying jobs and create opportunities to expand the tax base.
The commissioners were asked what were the major economic challenges for Blanco County are, and Commissioner Granberg cited affordable housing. According to Granberg, when people must commute, there is an increased need for affordable housing. Granberg noted “there are some good, successful existing programs, and these are not subsidized.” Fowler mentioned broadband access and the value of the park system in Blanco County.
Judge Guthrie expressed concern because “visitors come and visit the home of LBJ, but then leave and go to Fredericksburg. We can’t keep them here.” Granberg commented that “art and antiques are nice, but they aren’t the long-term answer.” Everyone agreed the demise of the “Mom and Pop” businesses have not been good for the economic development of the county, and Commissioner Liesmann suggested it would be helpful for businesses and individuals to promote the local wineries in Blanco County.
Fowler mentioned it would be important to stress the value of Pedernales Falls State Park and Blanco State Park, because they are “nice and beautiful facilities that will provide strength and viability for improvements.” Judge Guthrie countered, “We almost lost Blanco State Park recently, and we are still keeping a watchful eye on this.”
Commissioner Granberg commented that the county benefits when an individual buys a parcel of land and then builds a house. These people are substantial, and do not create problems for us to address.” Commissioner Sultemeier responded, “There remains the need for affordable housing for the others.”
Fowler told the court the planning will include a strategic county analysis that emphasizes demographics and commuting patterns in order to “understand the economic issues.” He also agreed the ability to retain visitors in the county to spend dollars was important, and the “viability of the downtown areas, accessibility and a market to bring in businesses” is critical.
Fowler said it is necessary for counties like Blanco to “find niches, and develop a balanced approach for a stronger economy and the creation of more jobs.” Commissioner Sultemeier asked how many years the planning would include, and Fowler answered the time frame is usually about 20 to 35 years. The committee will set short-term goals for immediate results, such as safety and signage issues, and long-term goals that might include widening certain areas and right-of-way. The important thing, he said, “is that you decide, and make the plan your own.”
The commissioners were asked to consider a deadline of December 20, 2012, for submitting names for the advisory committee. Judge Guthrie noted that, because of the holidays, December 20 “might be ambitious, but we will try.”
Commissioner Liesmann asked if there were certain individuals, perhaps in certain governmental agencies, that it might be “best to avoid for conflicts of interest.” Fowler answered that it is always helpful to have the advice of even those you disagree with, and sometimes when those individuals are involved in the planning they develop a “vested interest.”
The meeting was adjourned as Fowler asked the court to let him know if there were further questions, and Judge Guthrie thanked Fowler and Sweeney for “a good job,” saying, “we appreciate your interest and your efforts.”