By Tricia Hartmann
All four Blanco County Commissioners and Blanco County Judge Bill Guthrie held a Regular Meeting on November 12, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. in the Commissioners Courtroom of the Blanco County Courthouse located in Johnson City, Texas.
The minutes of the Special Meeting of October 22, 2013 were read by Blanco County Clerk Karen Newman. The minutes were approved as read with Blanco County Commissioner James Sultemeier giving a motion to accept and County Commissioner John Wood seconding.
Judge Guthrie asked the Commissioners Court to consider acceptance of the resignation of Sandra K. Mann from the Blanco County Child Welfare and Family Advocacy Board. In her letter of resignation Mann said that she had enjoyed working with the Board over the years and the friendships she made. A motion to accept the letter of resignation was made by Blanco County Commissioner John Wood and seconded by County Commissioner Paul Granberg.
Blanco County Commissioner Chris Liesmann asked the Court to consider release of the road construction bond for the Vistas at Round Mountain subdivision. According to Commissioner Liesmann, “the roads are done and are up to specifications of current subdivision regulations.” Judge Guthrie asked for discussion and there was none. Commissioner Liesmann gave a motion for release of the road construction bond for the Vistas at Round Mountain subdivision and Commissioner Sultemeier seconded. The motion carried.
Commissioner Liesmann told the Court, “after release of the construction bond for the Vistas at Round Mountain subdivision we need to consider accepting the road maintenance bond for the Vistas at Round Mountain subdivision in order to put the road maintenance bond in place.” No discussion followed, and Commissioner Granberg seconded Commissioner Liesmann’s motion to accept the road maintenance bond for the Vistas at Round Mountain subdivision and the action passed.
Judge Guthrie told the Commissioners the new contract represented by the Agreement for Tax Collection Services with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP for the collection of delinquent taxes will increase efficiency of operations and has been approved by the County Attorney. According to Judge Guthrie, payments will not be made [to them] directly but to the Appraisal District. The contract is for one year and includes a termination clause if needed. Judge Guthrie called for discussion and there was none. A motion to authorize County Judge Bill Guthrie to sign the Agreement for Tax Collection Services was given by Commissioner Granberg and seconded by Commissioner Wood. This action was approved by the Court.
The Commissioners Court went on to approve the estimated November 2013 payroll in the amount of $258,403.76. Commissioner Liesmann made a motion for approval, Commissioner Sultemeier seconded, and the motion carried. Judge Guthrie asked if all official reports were in, and he was told that they were. The Court approved the official reports after a motion for approval was made by Commissioner Wood and seconded by Commissioner Sultemeier. The Commissioners Court also approved the outstanding bills in the amount of $92,379.50 after a motion for approval was made by Commissioner Sultemeier and seconded by Commissioner Granberg.
Mark Sweeney, Regional Services Director of Capital Area Council of Government (CAPCOG) made a Presentation to the Court regarding the Draft Blanco County Transportation and Economic Development Plan. Sweeney began by saying that it had been 12 months since he had met with the Commissioners Court and the work had been done to gather information from the community. Sweeney went on to say, “it’s your plan. The Presentation will address several important components, and these include: WHY, WHO, and HOW.”
Sweeney answered the question of “WHY” for the Blanco County Transportation and Economic Development Plan by saying it is a blueprint for the year 2040 for Blanco County and addresses improvements for roads, transit for biking, pedestrians, and safety issues. According to Sweeney, “you need a thoroughfare plan, a foundation for future decisions. Commissioners have the authority to deal with economic development and this will serve as a foundation for future decisions as a plan to work with and develop…this is your right and power as Commissioners.”
Sweeney answered the question of “WHO” developed the Plan by saying that Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) had partnered with CAPCOG to look at the issues. “My premise was your [Commissioners] wisdom and direction. Through your direction we formed a “work group” known as the Advisory Committee made up of business leaders, school administrators, and citizens. The Advisory Committee was asked to identify transportation and economic development issues for Blanco County. This group met four times during the past year, and through their recommendations and insights we formed an Economic Development Focus Group. This group is a subgroup and met three times this past year. Two public meetings were held, one in Johnson City in April, and one in Blanco in September. Approximately 45 people attended these two meetings, and we gathered valuable citizen input. We conducted a survey and 182 residents responded. We gathered “a tremendous amount of information” from the survey. A synopsis of that report is included in our Plan. I also maintained an open door policy through accessibility by mail, phone, and e-mail. The Plan was presented to the Johnson City Council last week, and after our Presentation today we will make a Presentation of the Plan to the Blanco City Council tonight.”
Sweeney also discussed “HOW” the Plan was developed. He said the Advisory Committee was given all the conditions information that was gathered. “Information related to daily traffic volume, capacity for existing traffic volume, truck traffic on highways 281 and 290, and demographic issues. Regarding demographic issues the county population in 2040 is projected at 17,000. Current population is 10,500. Six hundred new jobs are projected, and age and racial components are factored into demographics to arrive at a growth element. The Advisory Committee was told to refer to past population growth to project future growth because this growth impacts the road system.”
Sweeney went on to say that TTI created a model for Blanco County and projected that road systems would be adequate, but that, “highway 281 to Comal [County] will be a problem if improvements are not made. A four lane divided highway is proposed here because this area will be very congested if there are no improvements.”
Sweeney continued on to discuss the outcome of the planning process. He said that his group created a list from the information they were given, and put the list on maps because maps “tell you more.” Three categories were developed from the list, and these include: proposed thoroughfare improvements, safety improvements, and improvements for pedestrians, biking, tourism, and transit improvements.
Pertaining to thoroughfare improvements from the information gathered Sweeney said the Plan includes a possible bypass around the City of Blanco and an overpass at highways 290 and 281. Sweeney emphasized this was a “study area only, and that studies must be done before making changes.”
Sweeney told the Court, “safety improvements were considered to be the most important area by the Committee from the information gathered from citizens, and this is the most logical concern. Proposed improvements include improvements to shoulders, protected pedestrian crossings, and signalization. Also included was the elimination of low water crossings, and trimming cedar hedges on highway 290.” Sweeney added that these improvements are, “simple maintenance adjustments but also important.”
Sweeney told the Commissioners that CARTS is considering a plan to put in a transit station for regular stops in a few years. There would be stops in Blanco and Johnson City, and this will provide an aging population with better transit service. He added that signage and landscape entrances are also important considerations.
The Presentation moved to a discussion of Proposed Economic Development for Blanco County. Sweeney made references to a series of maps that will tell you what the economic plan is. “The target groups for economic development would include tourists, baby boomers, and young professionals. Growth in the Central Texas food industry relates to a 50 mile radius. Such growth means that local businesses should pursue this growing food industry to complement the wine and ale business in Blanco County.” Sweeney went on to say that information gathered indicates that an entrepreneurship with organic and locally grown products would provide good growth, and offer “great potential for restaurants in the area.”
Concern was expressed for downtown redevelopment. This redevelopment could include public improvements because tourism is important. Tourism is significant and should be capitalized on to improve business opportunities. Bi-local and branding was suggested for galvanizing attention to Blanco County in a “unified effort to make tourism more successful.” The importance of broadband and Internet services was also discussed. Sweeney told the Court, “input indicates that improvements must be countywide because of the importance of homebound businesses. These businesses will open new doors in Blanco County.”
Sweeney’s Presentation also discussed implementation strategies. He reminded everyone, “realism is real but won’t happen tomorrow.” Sweeney added that it is important to have an idea of the cost of improvements, and to develop priorities. The Plan includes options for funding sources and local sales tax. Sweeney said, “having a Plan gives you a leg up on the competition. It [a Plan] also gives you security and makes it easier to “get in line for funding by foundations.”
Sweeney reminded the Court of the need for re-evaluation. According to Sweeney, “this Plan is by the people and for the people but things do change. If you approve the Plan you will need to review it annually so that updates and minor adjustments are made to keep the Plan valid.”
The meeting moved into a Question and Answer Session, and several questions were given. Judge Guthrie told the Court that concern for downtown development is often given, and when highway 290 was re-routed in the 1960s downtown Johnson City was affected negatively. “If a loop is put in Blanco this may also happen…it is a valid concern. A loop may be good for traffic but maybe not for downtown businesses.” Judge Guthrie added, “listen to the people in Blanco regarding traffic versus a loop.”
Commissioner Sultemeier commented on the importance of signage. He said, “these are good improvements and we must be very careful. Signage gets people to stop and see our businesses.” Commissioner Liesmann raised the issue of downtown parking. Sweeney said there had been discussions of the need for more designated visitor parking downtown and that a study could be made regarding these improvements. Judge Guthrie said that downtown parking becomes an issue during jury selection. Commissioners Liesmann and Granberg discussed “seasonal and periodic” special events that create parking problems. Commissioner Granberg mentioned the annual Lavender Festival in Blanco. Commissioner Granberg said, “there are shuttles and this has some success, but many people are not aware of offsite parking.” Sweeney agreed that signage is important. More discussion followed regarding signage and parking.
Sweeney concluded his Presentation by saying, “it took a while to sift through all of the information we gathered. Now it is up to the local people to successfully analyze [the information]. Judge Guthrie thanked Mr. Sweeney, saying, “I appreciate the time and efforts from all. We also thank the Advisory Committee from Blanco County. You will get comments from us.” A motion to adjourn was made by Commissioner Liesmann and seconded by Commissioner Wood. The Regular meeting attended at this time.