At the December 8 meeting of the governing body of Blanco, mayor pro tem Bobby McClung welcomed council’s newest member, Martin Sauceda. Sauceda, who filed an application for council with the city months ago, was appointed in the wake of the death of council member and mayor pro tem Ron Houston and the resignation of mayor Tina Gourley.
A resident of Blanco for the past 37 years, Sauceda has been employed by PEC for the past 17 years. He lives in Blanco with wife Tracy, son Kyle (14) and daughter Keirsten (4). In his words, he has no “hidden agenda,” but has a strong desire to foster wholesome activities for the youth of Blanco.
Sauceda acknowledges that he has “big shoes to fill” following the dedicated service of Ron Houston. “I thank the council members for their confidence in me to select me,” he concluded in a phone interview with this reporter.
Blanco High student Ian Patrick Ray received an award from the Knights of the Milky Way for his work the past two years monitoring the light levels in the sky of Blanco. The Knights are dedicated to maintaining dark skies as part of the rural character of Blanco. In order to measure increases in light pollution, it was necessary to obtain a baseline reading of light levels, which Ian did. The Knights believe that citizens have the right to see the night skies; and their mission, as expressed in the proclamation read by mayor pro tem McClung is “to keep the stars at night big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.”
IESI representatives James Hare and Brian Harper petitioned council for a rate increase in garbage collection services based on a landfill rate increase of 22 percent, which took effect in April 2009. IESI is also entitled, by their contract with the city, to pass on increases in the consumer price index, which has risen 1.1 per cent. City attorney Eddy Rogers asked for a clarification of the data presented by Hare and Harper, including the total cost increases incurred by IESI. McClung raised a related issue impacting the citizens of Blanco, the “exclusivity” contract, which mandates citizens using only IESI-provided roll-offs for construction projects, even though other companies may provide these large portable dumpsters at a lower cost. After discussion, council voted to grant the 1.1 per cent increase, which would raise rates for residential trash pick-up by approximately 84 cents per month. In addition, McClung pledged to meet with IESI representatives to look at the data and come back to the January meeting ready to make a decision on the other requested increases of 7.4 per cent for residential customers and 3 per cent for businesses. McClung concluded, “We’ll move quickly—I’ll make myself available so we can both walk away happy.”
Blanco police chief Milton Willman and assistant chief Carl Bragg presented council with plans for re-configuring the police department annex on Blanco Avenue to include training rooms, mandated secured storage space for evidence, which Bragg said is “sorely needed right now,” interrogation rooms, and office space. The proposed 2400 square-foot space would replace the cramped quarters at city hall, where the police department is currently housed. Willman and Bragg recounted recent questioning of suspects and witnesses, at which time some had to be kept in patrol cars and some on park benches in order to maintain the necessary separation. Council voted unanimously to proceed with the process of obtaining construction drawings of the facility in order to let it for bids.
In other police matters, chief Willman reported that speeding citations and calls for service were down in November. However, he reported an increase in car burglaries in several areas of Blanco, including criminal mischief charges filed against individuals who attempted to break into cars and damaged them. Statistics “are higher than they have ever been,” according to Willman, who said the groups suspected of these burglaries also operate in Marble Falls, Johnson City, and as far away as Kingsland. Some of the property has been recovered, according to Willman. Also, he reported that the individuals suspected of robbing Cattleman’s Bank in Round Mountain have been apprehended, with numerous agencies cooperating, including the Blanco Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.
Council also approved setting a maximum limit of reserve officers, as mandated by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers’ Standards of Education (TCLOSE). By Willman’s request, the number was set at 12, the maximum that can be outfitted until a new budget cycle.
Council resumed the process of annexing properties contiguous to the Blanco city limits which already receive city services, either water or sewer. Notice, which was served to those eligible to be annexed back in 2008, will be served again, with some new properties included. Although some residents do not wish to be annexed, council member Rebecca Howerton stressed the advantages of being in the city, including EMS, fire, and police protection. McClung added that the concerns of citizens that their taxes will go up might be offset by the reduction in their water rates. Residents in the ETJ pay 1 ½ times the water rate of in-city customers. McClung called the annexation a way to “protect the assets of Blanco. If we don’t act, we don’t know what might be built right up against us,” he stressed.
Planning and Zoning Commission chair Martha Herden reported that there are still two vacancies in the commission, which has prepared a signage amendment and a modular homes amendment to the UDC. McClung stressed that holding the mandated two public hearings to consider these amendments is desirable and need not wait for the whole UDC to be reviewed and updated.
Debbie Homeier, president of the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, introduced new director Penny Thomas, who comes to Blanco from the Greater Houston Partnership. She praised Thomas’s experience and the fact that she was able to put together the Lavender Lights with only two weeks’ lead time. Homeier invited council members to drop in at the chamber to hear all the plans Thomas has for the chamber. New officers will take over in January.
Keep Blanco Beautiful chair Retta Martin reported that KBB has been “very busy” getting the park ready for Christmas and thanked Chief Willman for the department’s help.
In other business, council approved the following:
• Ordinance 334 regarding building codes for the city of Blanco, giving code enforcement officer Pete McKinney “something to work with,” according to McClung
• Changes in charges for building permits and inspections
• Security cameras for the city yard
• Possibility of doing limited road work to improve muddy conditions near the residence of Delia and Julio Alegria
• Proclamation of Tree of Angels Day on December 12, in honor of victims of violent crimes and their families
• Removing the probationary status of patrolman Ronnie Rodriguez and giving him a salary raise