Blanco County Commissioners held a Special Workshop Meeting on October 8, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in the Commissioners Courtroom of the Blanco County Courthouse in Johnson City, Texas. The meeting was held pursuant to Chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code (the Texas Open Meetings Act). All four County Commissioners and Blanco County Judge Bill Guthrie were present.
Judge Guthrie called the meeting to order, and stated that the Court would discuss information relative to revisions and updates of the Blanco County Subdivision Regulations. Citizen Elaine Cross was the first to speak. Cross said counties and developers must work together to be proactive in fire suppression. She went on to say that the burden of fire suppression should not fall entirely on counties and property owners, and that current regulations require developers to do nothing when they put in subdivisions.
Cross shared a story of a fire in Steiner Ranch several years back. According to Cross, “trucks came from Blanco, Hayes, and surrounding areas. They had no access to water and had to scurry for water. Residents were in fear of their homes burning that night. There was no money put in by the County or developer for fire protection, and there are people in other areas that have no protection.” Cross asked that there be, “…access for water for all subdivisions built in Blanco County before plats are approved and [developers] take the oath of fire suppression for the people who live there.”
Cross introduced Kendall County Fire Marshall Jeff Fincke to the Court. Fincke told the Court that Kendall County has started a program in recent years whereby developers put in tanks and wells for fire suppression with an affidavit when property is sold to an owner. “We think of water for structural fires with the drought, and it means that an alternative water source is critical. Also we must consider what we need to protect in front of fires. Where is the responsibility? It [responsibility] is with the developer until the land sells, then it is deeded to the home owner. If the homeowner decides to deed it back we monitor it. We also have a GPS system and this is proactive.”
Fincke added that there are three water well co-ops in Kendall County with fire department connections. According to Fincke, “this is all documented and homeowners do their part to provide easier access. There are blue dots on the roads to denote storage tanks for fire protection. We are careful about taking water out of storage tanks if possible…we are cautious.” Fincke added that the department has float pumps for 250-400 gallons/per minute and “we developed our program for ease and convenience for fire fighters, and [it] the program has grown beyond our expectations.”
County Commissioner Paul Granberg said most rural subdivisions have tanks, weak wells, but tough access. Fincke said it is good to have connectivity and that this is a great way to help with access because of fences and topography. Commissioner John Wood asked if Kendall County had taken over the three co-op wells, and Fincke said homeowners pay electric and the homeowner’s association helps with maintenance and repairs and that the rules can be rewritten to include sharing costs of maintenance issues. According to Fincke, “If you have swimming pools it can drop ISO classes because a rating of ten is costly…this can provide a nice savings on fire insurance.”
Commissioner Wood asked if any tanks had run out and Fincke answered, “Not yet. We have used some fire wells and tanks and we replenished these for domestic use. The County is fortunate we are allowed to take [water] from the public system.” Fincke said there is some liability risk if a tank is allowed to run dry but that their program monitors the three wells very closely and there is an official checklist to inspect. The monitoring is done at least two to three times yearly. He added, “Our homeowners are probably 200-300% better off than they were ten years ago. The regular road and bridge program has also improved access.”
Judge Guthrie asked for a recommendation from Fire Marshall Fincke and was told there is a formula for 10,000 gallons and that trucks can carry a bit more water than in the past. He said, “Those first 10-15 minutes are critical, and the extra water is a lifesaver.” As pertaining to a question of legality Fincke said, “I can’t answer that, but something is better than nothing.”
Ann Hall also spoke to the Commissioners Court. She reported that the Insurance Services Office (ISO) number (used in fire suppression schedules) was going down because of changes implemented in Johnson City. Hall also voiced concern for a need for developers to begin providing help for maintenance and improving access to water in the subdivisions they develop. Hall said, “If other counties have these restrictions we are obligated to keep Blanco at least as good as the surrounding counties.”
Ann Hall promised to send the Commissioners the research she and citizens have developed. A summary of the research was compiled in the Blanco Emergencies Strategic Plan. Hall told the Commissioners a Strategic Planning Meeting was held in May at the Old Blanco Courthouse. Input from citizens ranked the following in order of greatest to least importance: Citizens’ Expectations: quick response time, well trained staff, equipment, cost efficient. Citizens’ Concerns, from greatest to least importance were: Cost, mapping addresses & water location, personnel numbers & training, available equipment, response time.
Blanco Fire Chief Tommy Pinder, Jr. also addressed the Court. He said that in Brushy Top Subdivision a 3,000 gallon truck would be unable to get uphill in the event of a fire. He also requested access to the gate code. Judge Guthrie asked if there was a training program in place to change any deficiencies. Pinder answered that there is. He said these changes may include some personnel changes and training from the ground up. Pinder added that he sees a need for updating mapbooks and for better access to fire hydrants in Rockin’ J Subdivision.
Commissioner Chris Liesmann raised the question of liability. Fincke responded that the program can provide water for landowners, and requirements should be rewritten because issues do arise, and that he, “…would be glad to help bring fire chiefs to talk about what has been beneficial and helpful for our program.” Fincke told the Commissioners, “If a well goes dry we cannot hold Mother Nature responsible.”
Judge Guthrie summarized the Court’s position and said, “the County will study available information and may decide to add a number of things regarding subdivision regulations…the important issues are water availability and septic. We will set up a workshop for revisions after our review.”
Developer of Brushy Top, Davy Roberts, spoke to the Court. Roberts began by saying that he is from Houston, and that although living in the city offers many amenities that living in a rural area does not, he prefers life in Blanco County. “I left all that behind for better schools, less humidity (amid chuckles), less mosquitoes, and lower taxes. How to draw the line regarding the size tract? As a property owner I will have a pool with an approximately 20,000 gallon capacity. If Blanco County has the ability for a float valve system to pump 2500 gallons from storage tanks and I put in a rainwater collection system…if the access is there would this be adequate? There must be some give and take.”
Regarding Judge Guthrie’s question of passing on the cost for putting in tanks Roberts said if large tracts have dry hydrants (non-pressurized gravity flow outlets) the County EMS could connect with much water at their disposal. Wells could be given to the County to inspect. A discussion followed regarding the size of tanks, whether these would be open or storage tanks, and the appearance of the tanks.
Cross said she had two things to add to the discussion. She said that if the developer (or any individual) has a swimming pool with access to a personal home this is not dedicated to the subdivision. “Not anything required I believe. Regarding aesthetics, if the requirements are there before the subdivision is developed from the beginning there should be no complaints, because it is already there.” Fincke agreed that dry hydrants are an exception and that requirements regarding intake are variable because of drought conditions.
There was also a short discussion regarding septic regulations. The Commissioners were told those regulations changed because a division of the State has changed, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) rules are still in force with an update of language. Kathy Strickland, secretary to County Judge Guthrie, added that an update on all fees from current regulations was also needed.
Ron Fiesler of the Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District told the Commissioners Court that regarding subdivision regulations there is a need to clarify the water availability report. He recommended conferencing with the County Attorney to make certain the regulations pass legal muster for future development clarity. Fiesler said there were several items that required additional discussion. These included a drawdown over the district. “Pump tests retrieve data, with calculations to get drawdown or a visual cone of oppression…drawdown and effect on neighboring wells.”
Fiesler also commented on the importance of working with developers to ascertain that wells are usable after they are drilled. Concerns included how to connect to an existing public water system, and if this would this be done by a booster system. He recommended a committee discussion to gather information regarding a public water system. Judge Guthrie agreed a committee would meet and discuss these and other issues, including distance between wells. The committee would include representation from the northern and southern portions of the County. Commissioner Sultemeier would represent northern Blanco County and Commissioner Granberg would represent southern Blanco County.
The meeting ended with a short discussion of roads and septic issues regarding subdivision regulations. The discussion related to subdivision regulations and County regulations for roads, upkeep, and maintenance and the cost and the minimum size acreage of tracts within the County. Judge Guthrie said a committee discussion would also include an examination of applicable State rules and regulations.
The Special Workshop Meeting ended at approximately 11:40 a.m. Commissioner Liesmann made a motion to adjourn, and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Granberg.