Jan Brieger reported to the governing body of Blanco at their December 11 meeting on the recommended distribution of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues to various community organizations.
A committee consisting of local entrepreneurs, city council and chamber representatives, and city employees evaluated applications submitted by organizations that are bound by Texas law to use the monies to benefit tourism and more specifically, “to put heads in beds.”
These were the committee’s recommendations: Maintaining a Visitor Center – $10,000 to the Blanco Chamber of Commerce and $10,000 to the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society.
In answer to a question by council member Al Turner as to the need for two visitor centers, Brieger explained that the two entities serve very different functions.
Advertising to Promote Tourism – $10,000 to the chamber and $5,000 to OBCCPS. Events likely to result in visitors spending the night--$8,000 to the Buggy Barn Museum, $5,000 to Vaaler Creek Golf Course, $3,500 to the Rodeo Association, $2,500 to the Annual Bands for Band event, $1,500 to the Pioneer Museum, $700 to the Blanco Performing Arts Association, and $500 to the Boozefighter motorcycle organization.
“I think this is a good plan,” concluded Brieger.
Several council members expressed skepticism that all parties were satisfied with the committee’s recommendation. Danny Ray asked, “How did the courthouse like it?” to which Brieger responded, “Everybody would have liked more money, but we are working together.”
Bobby McClung asked chamber representative Marcy Westcott, ”Does this put you in a bind going from $40,000 to $20,000?”
She responded that the chamber has had a very difficult year with the loss of their former director. “Under the circumstances, we’re just glad we’re still here,” she said, adding that the chamber now has a “very able leader” – Libbey Aly.
In response to Westcott’s comment that the city may have lost confidence in the chamber, McClung said, “I think the chamber is strong; it is light years ahead of where we were ten years ago.”
Real Ale owner and chamber member Gabriel Gregerman was part of a committee composed of chamber and courthouse representatives who were tasked with bringing the two groups together. “We want to dispel the myth that we don’t like each other,” she said.
Jo Nell Haas, who was also part of the group, said a joint chamber-courthouse Community Open House is planned for the spring.
Mayor Homan responded to the report, “Thank you for working together; this is excellent.” Council unanimously approved the recommendation. Brieger also said that all the money has not been allotted and that the chamber can write up a proposal for funds to support the Lavender Festival in June.
In other business, the mayor commented, “We had a wonderful big parade last Saturday. Everybody had a good time. We have most of the lights working in (Bindseil) Park. “ Retta Martin reported for Keep Blanco Beautiful that she had heard comments that Blanco’s parade was better than the ones in Fredericksburg and Johnson City. She thanked everyone for their help with the Trail of Lights but said KBB is “really in the hole” this year and hopes to recoup some funds during the annual membership drive. Martin also reported that the Streetscape committee has met twice with TxDOT and will apply for an enhancement grant in the next year to fund the project.
Council members discussed a proposal by PEC to give the city $25,000 for a sign to replace the service they previously provided of hanging banners on their utility poles. City secretary Bobbie Mowery expressed doubt that a sign could be purchased at that cost. The issue of using a sign which would meet Unified Development Code (UDC) requirements was also discussed, since electronic reader board signs are not allowed. Because the decision had to be made by the end of the year, council voted to go ahead and sign a letter of intent to PEC.
Newly-sworn-in Police Chief Michael Ritchey gave his first report to council, noting that follow-up investigations are down to single digits in the latter half of the year and that one of his priorities will be to organize the evidence locker to make it easier to work in.
“There are cases that are 25 years old that shouldn’t be there,” he said. He asked council to consider letting him buy his own patrol car and giving him a maintenance allowance to support it. “I do work some other jobs,” he explained, “and I do not want accusations that I am using city property for my own use. “Other departments do it,” he continued. “I am not inventing the wheel.”
Bobby McClung said it would be interesting to compare that proposal with the department’s vehicle inventory. No action was taken on his request.
City secretary Bobbie Mowery requested a vehicle allowance in place of the current mileage allowance which she receives. She has polled other city secretaries, who get between $200 and $400 a month. The mayor, who receives a $350 monthly allowance, said she could have some of his since he never uses it all. Mowery said she often has to travel to meetings and to do department errands. McClung pointed out that there is a procedure in place for a mileage allowance and urged her to keep track of her mileage and let council know. The request was tabled until the next meeting.
Finally, council voted to approve a lease transfer from the former occupants of the Sunset Restaurant to Mike Henderson, who will be leasing the property to open the Oak Creek Café. Since the porch of the restaurant is on city property, an arrangement was worked out, by which occupants pay the city a yearly fee of $10. City attorney Eddy Rogers characterized the new restaurant as a “hamburger and catfish restaurant migrating toward family fare.” He assured council members that the sublease of the porch portion of the restaurant preserves all the rights of the city.
Following discussion in Executive Session, council voted to approve an Agreed Order from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. TCEQ alleges that the City of Blanco failed to comply with permitted effluent limits from March 2011 through February 2012, with excessive levels of ammonia-nitrogen and E. coli. The report also alleges that the city failed to dispose of sludge at a TCEQ-authorized land application site and failed to report in writing the effluent violations. According to the report, the city denies the allegations. An administrative penalty of $36,063 was assessed by TCEQ in settlement of the violations. The city has paid $28,851 of the administrative penalty, and $7,212 is deferred, contingent upon the city’s “timely and satisfactory compliance with all the terms of this Agreed order.” The order acknowledges that the city cleaned up the sludge ponds in April 2012 and submitted the non-compliance notifications in June 2012. Other provisions of the Order involve city employee training and submitting written certification of compliance within certain set time periods. Other matters discussed in Executive Session, such as hiring another police officer, were not acted on.