On April 13, prior to its regular meeting, the Blanco City Council held a second public hearing on the proposed annexation of properties within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
Similar to the first hearing a week ago, citizens opposed to the annexation wanted to be heard.
Mayor Pro-Tem Bob McClung explained to those present that this round of annexations is a “cleanup” action. He said that City Council in 2007 and again in 2008 was unanimous in favor of annexing properties contiguous to the City of Blanco “in order to protect the character of Blanco.”
He said that annexation is a part of the city’s Comprehensive Master Plan that was approved in 2005. He indicated that persons with properties outside the city limits but who use city water, trash and sewer services pay a premium. Annexation, according to Mr. McClung, will lower those costs. He claimed that once a property is annexed, the lower cost of those services “washes” the cost of having to pay additional city taxes.
One citizen disagreed. Sherry Hawkins said she was opposed to being annexed because the savings will not equal the increase in taxes. She said she figured it out and that the taxes she would be paying were considerably more than her savings in her water bill. “I support two disabled people,” she said. “I make house payments and carry the bulk of the financial burden. My fixed income is already insufficient to maintain my household. I have a septic system. Will I have to pay the additional cost of hooking up to city services?”
She went on to say that she is trying to fix up a mobile home on her property in order to better provide for the disabled. She is concerned that restrictions in the city ordinances might not allow her to renovate and use that facility as she would like.
Another citizen said he lives on what is now a private road. “There is no benefit in annexation for me,” he said. “I have access to the Sheriff’s Department and I am willing to pay higher rates for water. My street is private. Annexation for me is just added pressure.”
When asked, the Blanco Chief of Police indicated that his department does respond to calls outside the city limits.
Gail McClellan said that many households are on fixed incomes. “We know that state and federal taxes are going to soar. Can’t local government help instead of contributing to our costs?” She said that “it is disheartening to see all the restrictions placed on the use of our own property. We are the ones who paid for our property and who work to keep it. It is un-American to have someone tell us what we can and can’t do with our own property and to have to pay a permit fee, which is just another tax, every time we want to do something.”
Mary Ann Mallard asked how many were present who worked on the 2005 Master Plan. Two individuals raised their hands.
“A Master Plan is paper,” said Ms. McClellan. “We are flesh and blood. How about trying to protect us instead of trying to control us?”
Mr. McClung said that it was not the intent of annexation to change property owners’ life styles or the ways they use their properties. He said that the ag-exempt status of properties would still apply. He assured those present that the Council would address the issues of brush burning and the use of firearms on the larger annexed properties.
Mayor Pro-Tem McClung indicated that many people are using city services just as soon as they leave their driveways. He said that some properties proposed for annexation are already surrounded by the city and are already receiving city services. “Annexation is American,” he said. “Dripping Springs didn’t want to become a part of Austin. Where will we be in 20 years if we don’t protect ourselves now?”
The public hearing was closed and the Council went into regular session. When a vote was called to approve the annexation, Council Member Rebecca Howerton asked the city clerk how many of those who received annexation notices were in favor of it. Out of 25 or 26 persons who were notified only three signed and returned the notices. It was noted that the hearings had many more people speak against annexation than spoke in favor of it.
When the vote was called, Danny Ray, Martin Sauceda and Jim Rodrigue voted in favor of annexation with Rebecca Howerton abstaining. “I have to live with my neighbors,” she said.
Mr. McClung summarized by saying, “We would do a disservice if we did not act simply because someone objected.”
In other Council business, Conrad Carbary of PEC gave a report on rebate and upgrade programs designed to save energy. He said that PEC is involved in public education programs in area schools including the “Power House” conservation program.
PEC is contributing a total of $19,000 to Project Graduation in area high schools ($500 each) which is designed to help keep graduating seniors safe on graduation night.
The Council was reminded of “Earth Day” slated for April 22. Citizens are urged to conserve electricity that day and to make environmentally sound choices.
Business customers will be invited some time soon to take a close look at PEC “inside and out.” If someone has passed by the PEC offices and wondered, “What do they do in there?” This will be the time to find out.
Don Crowley of Paramount Pictures reported that some street closures and/or intermittent traffic controls would be implemented in connection with the filming of “True Grit” in the Old Historic Courthouse scheduled for May 10, 11 and 12. During the filming 4th Street will have to be closed down and covered with mulch. Other streets contiguous to the square including the west side of Pecan Street will be affected.
It is believed that businesses will not be adversely affected. The Post Office and Blanco National Bank will remain open.
Jeff Bridges will be playing the role of Rooster Cogburn. Although most of the exterior filming will take place in Granger, it is expected that some 200 extras will be roaming around town during the Blanco filming.
Park Ranger Mike Young gave a report on the Blanco State Park. He emphasized the economic benefits of the park and indicated that a PowerPoint presentation is in the works to help City Council and the public realize the benefits of having the park in Blanco. Community meetings will be scheduled to bring the citizenry up to date regarding the park’s quality of life benefits.
Blanco State Park relies upon state taxes for needed improvements and for the hiring of additional staff. State agencies, including the parks, are being asked to reduce their budgets because the State is anticipating a significant reduction in income. “At some point,” said Mr. Young, “we face having to increase revenues or cut services.”
He urged local citizens to support the park. He indicated that the park assists the community by loaning equipment and donating services to nonprofit organizations. “If you appreciate what the park has to offer, talk it up. We have to pay our bills, too.”
Chuck Homan of Planning and Zoning said that on May 11 a new sign ordinance would be ready for the Council’s review. In order to keep property values from being affected, a modular housing ordinance is being considered. He said that this ordinance would include single, modular homes, not manufactured homes. There seemed to be some confusion as to what differentiates a “modular home” from a “manufactured home.”
Penny Thomas of the Chamber of Commerce announced some dates for upcoming festivals and other activities that are now in the planning stages. A Chamber web site will be launched in May.
Contingency plans are being considered for Blanco Market Days if the Courthouse grounds are not usable. These include some partial closures of streets in the vicinity to allow vendors to set up and display their wares.
Retta Martin of Keep Blanco Beautiful reported great success with the Trash-Off. It involved more than 100 volunteers working in the streets and along the river. A total of 226 vehicles took stuff into the City Yard. Appreciation was expressed to Super S Grocery for providing water, hot dogs and buns for the workers.
Keep Blanco Beautiful is looking for ways to provide water for the planter boxes on the Byars Building side of the Square. The Mayor Pro-Tem asked that the organization “dress up” the new Police facility.
Ms. Martin said that planning is already is already under weigh for the “Trail of Lights” and provided the Council with copies of a new Historic Blanco County Courthouse brochure.
Chief Milton Willman reported that the new Police Department Building was completed quickly and efficiently. “It is nice, adequate and beautiful.” He especially appreciates the very secure evidence room and the security system that will be in place prior to occupancy. He said that a beautiful new sign has been ordered for the facility and will be delivered soon.
He said that under the direction of Mr. Wheeler, J.W. Construction completed the project in about four weeks. Danny Ray of the City Council had oversight responsibilities.
Chief Willman will do an inventory of surplus items that he does not intend to move to the new building. Those things, along with a 2001 model police car, will be put out for bid. A new police pay scale is being considered.
Rate changes will be implemented for bulk water users. Some water meters are only needed short-term by contractors. Others are needed for the long haul. The proposed rate changes are available in the office of Nathan Cantrell, Director of Public Works.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) will make a proposal at the next City Council meeting for the use of the City’s radio tower repeater.
The use of firearms on newly annexed properties will be discussed at the May City Council meeting.
The Council adjourned into Executive Session to consult with an attorney concerning litigation.