After deliberation by members of Blanco’s governing body in executive session at their regular meeting August 11, former mayor Jim Rodrigue was chosen from a pool of three candidates to fill the seat vacated by Tina Gourley upon her election to mayor last May. In answer to a question posed by resident Diane Hostetler in the Public Comments section of the meeting, Mayor Gourley explained that council members are appointed rather than elected when a seat becomes vacant. After a divided vote, in which council member Rebecca Howerton cast an opposing vote, Mr. Rodrigue was sworn in and was able to vote on issues before the board. Mayor Gourley thanked the other two candidates, Pamela Capps and Martin Sauceda, for their interest and invited them to run for office in the next election cycle.
Additional public comments by Diane Hostetler addressed the need for a new water plant. Addressing Ron Houston, she alluded to a situation in their mutual home town, which she called “a ghost town,” because of a failure to provide adequate water to its citizens. She also questioned the progress of work on the new police department facility on Blanco Avenue. Retta Martin expressed a need for change on city council, “not the same thing we have had since 2000.”
Other appointments approved by council included Mayor Gourley’s appointment to fill former Mayor Jim Rodrigue’s seat in the CAPCOG General Assembly and Amy Petri to fill a vacancy on the Blanco Historical Commission board. President Linda Howard explained that Mrs. Petri hopes to incorporate a program involving historical preservation into her curriculum as a teacher at Blanco High School. Howard also requested a joint workshop with city council members to explain the commission’s streetscaping program.
Mayor Gourley presented a certificate of commendation to police officer Robert Stewart and to Nathan Cantrell for their “excellent work” in averting a greater disaster in apprehending the individuals who opened fire hydrants on July 4, draining the city’s fire suppression system.
She explained that the SKADA computer system used by Cantrell to monitor all levels of water in the city’s storage tanks alerted him to the problem, enabling him to arrive at the scene promptly. Ron Houston further praised Stewart, who, he said, “has found a home” here in Blanco and is doing a good job. Mayor Gourley also read a proclamation declaring August Fair Housing Month and urging all citizens “to become aware of and support the Fair Housing Law.”
After a second executive session, council voted to remove the probationary status for patrolman Stewart and to hire a new officer, Austin Harper, as well as formalizing the status of acting police chief Carl Bragg. Bragg reported 171 citations issued in July and an average of 174 calls per month, including calls for service. “We direly need some help,” said Bragg, explaining that the department needs more manpower to deal with the growing needs of the community.
City engineer Marvin Reavis and public works director Nathan Cantrell presented a plan to council for the Town Creek Trunk Line Grant Project, which will replace pipes in an older part of town, including a line in the Blanco State Park. Care will be taken, according to Reavis, with the park’s antique rock bridge, and the new line will not run under the asphalt road. Otherwise, the route of the pipeline will be the same. Council approved giving the bid to the Kro-Mex Construction Company at a cost of $202,650, including new, hinged 30" manhole covers. A spring completion date is projected with a start November 1, avoiding peak season in the park.
Council also voted to let for bid seal-coating of pavement on the square and re-marking parking spaces. A company that did the previous coating will do the job for under $7000, according to Nathan Cantrell, who said, “I believe we need to do it—we have a big investment in it [the current pavement].” The project will involve closing the square for several days to prevent pedestrians from tracking tar into local businesses. Council also heard a proposal from Cantrell and Reavis to put a coating on other city streets which are “in pretty good shape but need a little love,” according to Cantrell. Council voted to use the rest of the street budget, $145k, to fill potholes and clear street edges of vegetation on the following streets: Elm Street from 4th to 7th; 7th from Highway 281 to Mesquite Street, and 7th out to the school. “We want to go as far as we can with the available money in the budget,” concluded Cantrell.
Council discussed options to reduce the amount of effluent released by Real Ale Brewery into the city’s sewer system. Nathan Cantrell revealed that the brewery produces an excess of Total Suspended Solids (6500 milligrams per liter) and Biochemical Oxygen Demand (4000 milligrams per liter) above the allowable discharge of 200/200. Marvin Reavis asked if council is aware that Blanco has no wastewater discharge ordinance, which any city that receives an EPA grant to improve or construct water treatment facilities must put in place. Council asked him to look at the ordinances of other cities and come up with one for council to approve. Attorney Eddy Rogers said that he would draft a letter for council to send to Real Ale, requiring them to come up with a plan within three months to reduce their effluent. Options discussed by council included requiring the brewery to install a filtration system and getting approval from a nearby landowner to use the effluent for irrigation purposes.
In other water-related issues, resident Rebecca Greathouse expressed concerns at the excessive and inefficient watering of Bindseil Park during a time of drought. She spoke based on 22 years of experience as an organic gardener in Texas, explaining that the plantings are drought-tolerant and that a system of soaker hoses would require much less water and be more efficient because of less evaporation. Greathouse expressed the opinion that the city needs to be proactive and not set a bad example in a drought. She also expressed willingness to work with the city in developing a more efficient system. “It looks like you have just volunteered,” joked council member Bobby Mack.
Council voted to set procedure for granting individuals with a one-time water leak that has been repaired a one-time water bill adjustment in the amount of half of 1.5 times the overage incurred on a bill. With this formula established, city staff will be able to make the adjustment without council’s involvement. Council voted to give Vicky Woodcock a credit of $195.58 on her May water bill of $440.80.
Following a report from the Chamber of Commerce on preparations for next year’s Lavender Lights and Lavender Festival, council voted to approve a resolution authorizing an application to the Go Texas Rural Community Bootstrap Bucks Program. Last year’s grant paid chamber expenses associated with publicizing the festivals.
Martha Herden, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, reported that P&Z discussed the lighting and signage ordinances with Subway at their July meeting. “We have worked on the signage ordinance a great deal,” she added and said that a copy of the amendments has been given to the city. She also said that the meeting date of P&Z will be moved to the first Monday of the month, and the office of vice-chair will be added, with Amil Baker assuming that job. P&Z is reviewing the modular home ordinance, since originally mobile homes and modular homes were “blended” in the language of the ordinance, although in her words, “They are very different,” with modular homes being constructed on site with a permanent foundation. Herden expressed some frustration from P&Z members at their recommendations on variances being overturned. She requested a workshop with city council to make sure everyone is “on the same page.” She praised the city staff for their cooperation in working with her and for their professionalism with all citizens. “You are lucky to have them,” she concluded. Mayor Gourley thanked Herden and P&Z for their hard work.
After some discussion, council voted to approve an amended resolution from the Blanco County Appraisal District to allow them to obtain financing for a new facility in Johnson City. Council member Bobby McClung questioned appraiser Hollis Boatright on the issue of whether the district was offered office space in the new county annex building, to which she responded that it was “not true.” She then revised her statement to say that they would be allowed to rent space in the facility. When asked why the Blanco county commissioners voted to table the amended resolution, she said, “The commissioners wanted more to time” to get additional information. Council member Ron Houston responded, “Perhaps we need more time as well.” City attorney Eddy Rogers suggested that Boatright needed to get on with the process of obtaining financing at a 5 per cent rate, and Jim Rodrigue added his assent. McClung asked about a citizens’ group that is opposing the construction of a new facility, and Boatright explained that they are a “vocal group from the north end of the county.” Council subsequently voted to approve the amended resolution, which included authorizing the appraisal district to obtain financing.