At the March 11 meeting of the governing body of Blanco, a public hearing was held to discuss amending Blanco’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. Retta Martin explained the necessity for extending the review process from 15 to 31 days for approving changes to historic buildings and for determining the necessity of a demolition by hardship of a building. The third amendment would mandate that the commission have a certified historic preservation officer, as required by the Texas Historic Commission. Subsequent to the discussion, council members voted to approve the amendments and to appoint Rebecca Greathouse as the certified historic preservation officer.
In the Public Comments portion of the meeting, Keep Blanco Beautiful spokesperson Retta Martin submitted a letter to council from the Beautification Committee stating that members will no longer be able to do the heavy work associated with landscaping around the square and in Bindseil Park, including setting up Christmas displays for the Trail of Lights, but will continue in an advisory and design capacity. “We can’t do this hard work anymore,” she said.
Emergency Services District #2 Treasurer Mary Ann Millard invited council members and the public to attend a special ESD meeting on March 17 at the EMS headquarters on Loop 163 to hear a presentation from the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office on how to lower Blanco’s ISO rating. The Insurance Services Office determines a community’s readiness to fight fires and determines insurance rates for individuals based on that rating. Blanco currently has an ISO rating of 8.
Blanco Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau Director Libbey Aly reported that there will be a town hall meeting in April to discuss the upcoming annual Lavender Festival. Since this will be the tenth anniversary of the festival, she said that citizen input will be valuable in fine-tuning the festival, which will be held June 13-15 on the square. She said it is important to hear the concerns of residents and to get merchants and lodging people “on the same page.” In response to a comment by Aly that some people object to the congestion on the square during the festival, council member Al Turner asked, “Why don’t you use Yett Park? The city owns it.” Aly responded that the merchants like the festival to be on the square and fear that moving it would kill it. She added that Yett Park will be utilized for free parking this year, with a shuttle running back and forth. She also announced that there will be a dance Saturday night of the festival at Yett Park, with Almost Patsy Cline and the Jim Raby Band playing. Turner responded that having parking at Yett Park “is a great idea.” In response to another question, Aly said that, due to damaging blights on lavender, there will be only two lavender farms open this year—Hill Country Lavender and Imagine Lavender. Chief Mike Ritchey concluded the discussion by saying that the biggest citizen complaints he heard last year concerned motorcycles parked on the square and consequent safety concerns. He was told that all spaces on the square would be occupied by vendors this year, leaving no room for any parking. Aly’s request for street closures on Pecan between 3rd and 4th Streets and on 3rd Street between Highway 281 and Bindseil Park was approved.
Mayor Chuck Homan announced that City Secretary Bobbie Mowery will be retiring at the end of March, and that city employees and staff will host a luncheon for her at Uptown Blanco on her last day. “We thank her for her almost-22 years of service, said Homan. “We’re not going to replace her,” he continued; “we’re just going to find someone to [try to] do her job.” Mowery told this reporter that 30 applications have been received for her position, some from very qualified applicants.
Planning and Zoning Commission member Martha Gosnell recommended Bruce Peele for a position on the commission, and council members approved the appointment unanimously. She also announced that Blanco’s annual Trash-Off will be held April 12, and that the city yard will be open April 7-11 for citizens to drop off their yard debris. Citizens can pick up a voucher at city hall to be admitted to the yard. Gosnell also asked for volunteers with trucks who would work on the 12th traveling around the city to pick up debris put out by citizens for pick-up. She added that letters will be sent to residents who have been cited for unsightly debris in their yards, letting them know that this will be their opportunity to get rid of the debris.
County Commissioner Paul Granberg announced the Blanco County Trash-Off on April 26th and said no proof of residency will be required of those who bring debris up to the transfer station in Johnson City. He said the county is applying for a CAPCOG grant to host a hazardous waste event next October since the cost of disposal of hazardous waste is very high and the budget of the regional hazardous waste program has shrunk to $17K for a 10-county area. He requested that the city budget have a line item helping to fund the hazardous-waste-disposal program.
Upon Blanco Historic Preservation Commission representative Retta Martin’s recommendation, council approved the appointment of Jim Harris to the commission as co-chair. She also announced that the BHPC did not get a grant to help make Blanco State Park a state historic site.
Blanco Fire Chief Ron Sallmann reported that the department responded to 21 calls in February, among them a number of grass and hay fires. Average response time was six minutes, 21 seconds. The department has added two new sets of extrication equipment and a cyanide detector to be used in fires involving plastic. The equipment, which is leased, will be replaced in three years and re-calibrated every 30 days. A HAZMAT trailer will come from San Marcos at no charge to take air samples. Chief Sallmann used the example of a family who got sick due to chemicals used in cleaning their carpets. These steps by the department are part of the process of lowering Blanco’s ISO rating, according to Sallmann. Through Texas A&M grants, the department has been able to get grants for wild land and bunker gear. Sallmann explained the need for more gear due to more volunteers—eleven new ones and five more who have applied. He also announced a training program, which will result in all volunteers being certified as Fire Fighter One. Sallmann said the department will be making an announcement soon that Home Depot will be helping make some improvements to the department facility. The department has also received a grant for a pallet of smoke detectors, and any resident of Blanco can come and get one. Finally, Sallmann reported that the department has both Facebook and Twitter accounts to disseminate information quickly.
Fire Department board member Jack Twilley announced that the Annual BVFD Fish Fry will be held on April 5 at Yett park from 4 to 8 p.m. There will be a static helicopter display as well as firefighter demonstrations and other entertainment. Admission and dinner is by donation.
Blanco Police Chief Mike Ritchey reported the number of calls was down in February due to a shorter month and four snow days. He said follow-up work is keeping officers bogged down. He asked that a reminder of the Trash-Off be sent to citizens with their water bill. Last year the department, along with code compliance, issued seven or eight letters to people to clean up their properties. He said fines were levied in some cases, and two houses were leveled. “We’re just asking people to come into compliance with what the people of Blanco want,” he said. Chief Ritchey submitted a second estimate for paving the parking lot of the police department, as council members had requested at the February meeting. He clarified that the estimate provided the correct ratio of permeable and impermeable covering, as required by Blanco’s UDC. Mayor Homan apologized that council could not vote on Ritchey’s proposal, since the discussion had not been tabled at the previous meeting and was not an agenda item at this meeting. Council agreed to hold a special meeting next week to vote on the paving proposal. Finally, Chief Ritchey announced that the new CopSync program has been initiated by the police department and has the capacity to send data directly from each police cruiser to department headquarters. The program is paid for until March 2016.
In Executive Session, council members consulted with the city attorney concerning hiring a project engineering consultant for the proposed new sewer plant. Council also discussed hiring a part-time clerical person for the police department and reducing the current office manager’s position to part-time. Finally, council reviewed resumes for the city secretary position and discussed a proposed salary. Following Executive session, council voted to approve the transition from full-time to part-time for the current police department office manager but not to hire another person. A special meeting was to be held Monday, March 17, to vote on hiring a project engineering consultant for the sewer plant project, to interview six applicants for the city secretary position, and to approve one of the bids for paving the police department parking lot.