After a public hearing at their regular meeting on September 14, members of the governing body of Blanco voted to approve the annual budget for fiscal year 2010-11 and set the tax rate at $.2583 per $100 valuation. In answer to a question posed at the public hearing, Mayor Homan responded that there is money in the budget to pay for overtime for police officers. Council members also clarified that $30K in hotel-motel taxes will be divided among several city entities that foster economic development and tourism, as mandated by the state. Seventy percent of those monies go to the Blanco Chamber of Commerce and the rest are divided among agencies such as the Blanco Historic Commission and Performing Arts.
In the Public Comments portion of the meeting, Jennifer Oines read a letter from Planning and Zoning Commission member Connie Barron urging council to put a moratorium on variances for signage until the new ordinance is approved by the city. Jon Brieger, owner of Brieger Pottery and the Redbud Cafe, read a petition written by Jeff Harkinson and signed by 29 citizens, which also urged a moratorium on new signage until a new signage ordinance is approved. It stated that, “By maintaining a uniform signage ordinance, we protect and encourage the growth of tourism.” Brieger explained that, at the time the Redbud Cafe sign was approved, he thought the signage ordinance was too restrictive, but now he feels the proposed signage ordinance has gone too far in the other direction. Council member Bobby McClung urged moderation, saying, “I’m not against signage, but it should be appropriate. The signage ordinance should be fast-tracked.” Historic Preservation Commission president Retta Martin added, “The language of the petition is in the spirit of historic preservation.” Resident Debbie Homeier recalled that members of Visionaries in Preservation spent a year collecting information on signage and handed it over to members of P&Z. Retta Martin complained, “When it got to P&Z, they totally ignored the work we had done.”
Blanco Luxury Suites owner Bharat Patel spoke in defense of his request for a taller, lighted sign, which he would like to mount on a 60-foot pole so it is more visible above power lines, a request which was denied by P&Z. “I’m all for beautifying Blanco,” he said, adding, “I think nothing I have done is substandard—this is a good place, and people should be proud of it.” Jon Brieger hastened to respond, “I did not mean to denigrate your business, but we need a policy we can use.” Luxury Suites employee Tony Wood said that the lack of visibility of the current Luxury Suites sign is a safety issue, since motorists accelerating out of the city have to turn around to come back because they miss it.
In her report P&Z chair Dana LeBlanc reported that P&Z had denied Mr. Patel’s request for a variance for the proposed height of his sign. She also reported that a request by the proposed Stripes convenience store for a sign variance was approved unanimously by the four members in attendance. She pointed out that the proposed size of the monument-style sign is only 64 square feet, the same as the size of the one in Fredericksburg, and that Stripes designers have gone “above and beyond” to design a building and sign with a “Hill Country look.” After looking at the size and design of the proposed sign, council approved the variance unanimously. Bobby McClung expressed some confusion, stating that he was under the impression that P&Z had adopted the VIP-based sign guidelines. He added, “It is not appropriate to put a moratorium on all signs. It’s important to be careful with variances if we want to encourage businesses in Blanco.” Council member Danny Ray said that he has looked at signs at other gas stations in Blanco, and in his words, “They are all bigger than this proposed sign.”
City engineer Marvin Reavis reported to council that the city opened bids on September 10 for a street paving project to refurbish South Pecan Street, adding a “lay-down” curb. Of the six companies who bid on the project, Mr Reavis recommended CAS Construction Company at a cost of $143,398.43, which includes $5754 to be paid by the Blanco Church of Christ for paving their parking lot. After hearing Mr. Reavis’s recommendation, council voted unanimously to award the bid to CAS Construction Company.
After hearing a protest from part-time resident Wilma Bayless at her meter reading of 60,300 gallons, council deliberated on whether to give her relief on her water bill and decided to cut her bill in half and install a new meter. Neither Public Works director Nathan Cantrell nor police chief Milton Willmann could find any evidence of a leak or foul play. Council member Rebecca Howerton suggested just forgetting the extra 60K gallons, since Bayless was confident it was a malfunction of the meter. City records show that her water usage is typically in the 300-gallon a month range.
Donald Gaines of Blanco Masonic Lodge #216 presented the police department with a check to purchase two additional suits of body armor for the police department. Chief Willmann thanked Gaines and presented the lodge with a certificate of appreciation. Chief Willmann further reported that calls for service were down for the month of August but that assaults were up. He commended citizen vigilance for continued calls regarding suspicious vehicles and circumstances in the city. The department has been stepping up patrols of businesses at night, placing a tag in an inconspicuous place on the ones they have checked. Police Liaison Al Turner and Mayor Chuck Homan reported a positive response by businesses to the new program.
Blanco State Park superintendent Michael Young notified council that a new fence has been constructed at the end of 2nd Street at the entrance to the park. The A140-foot stretch of no-climb fence has a gate to allow access to a fire hydrant. The fence will enforce the park’s boundaries to prevent unauthorized access. He further gave a “State of the State Park” presentation, reporting that the park has bounced back after what he called “a dismal beginning” of the 2010 fiscal year. He expressed optimism that this might be the year the park is self-sustaining, able to pay its bills by attendance. “We are very excited,” he said. “This shows the dedication of park employees in upholding the mandates of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.” He added that the park gets no city or county tax monies. He expressed fear that a state budget deficit will affect parks and sees “troubled years on the horizon for state agencies.” He urged residents to express their support for the park and its funding to their elected state legislators.
Nell Krueger announced the opening of a new World War II exhibit at the Pioneer Museum on September 18 from 3-7 p.m. Hot dogs and lemonade will be served, and there will be live music and an auction. She reminded council that the museum grand opening hosted over 250 people and requested the closure of Pecan Street in front of the museum from noon to 7 p.m. Council unanimously approved her request.
Marcy Westcott reported for the Blanco Chamber of Commerce that she is “very excited” about the new chamber web site, which is up and running. She announced that the first annual Blanco Chamber golf tournament will be held October 18 at Vaaler Creek and invited all to participate. In other business, there are two chamber director vacancies and interested persons should notify the chamber. A new Member of the Month program will recognize outstanding chamber members, and a business of the year will be chosen from this group and honored at the chamber’s annual banquet. In response to Chuck Homan, she said there is no truth to the rumor that there will not be a lavender festival next year. In fact, the budgets for the chamber and for the 2011 Lavender Festival have been finalized.
Blanco Historic Commission president Retta Martin gave an annual report highlighting the commission’s work during the past year. She said that the chamber is now a member of the Trust for Historic Preservation. Design guidelines for Blanco’s historic district have been developed subsequent to the 2004 Comprehensive Master Plan and there will be a public meeting the first week in October to review them. The Building Survey worked on by TD Smylie, RK Seals, Charles Willgren, and others, is now complete and needs to be moved to a place such as the Blanco Library where it will be available for public view. The oral history project at the Blanco Library is continuing, as is the Streetscaping Project, aided by architect Sue Ann Pemberton. The Historic Blanco Cemetery brochure is complete and awaiting funds for printing, and the Hill Country Trails Brochure has been published with the assistance of the BHC. The Blanco Independent School District is seeking an $8.8 million bond issue in November to fund restoration of the mission-style Blanco School and incorporate it into an expanded Blanco Elementary School campus. In conclusion, removal of a recently-erected concrete utility pole at the corner of 3rd Street and Highway 281 “is what the historic commission is all about,” in Ms. Martin’s words.
In other business, council voted to authorize the submission of a Texas Community Development Block Grant application to extend a new, larger sewer line up Elm Street. Members also voted to set the temperature of city buildings at a maximum 68 degrees of heat in the winter and maximum 74 degrees of air-conditioning in the summer. After a brief discussion, council voted to approve a solicitation ordinance, which city attorney Ed Rogers called “clean as a whistle,” in terms of protecting city residents from unwanted solicitation while in public places such as the square. Council also voted to allow city residents to bring deadfall from the recent storms to the city yard from September 14-28 at no charge. Finally, after deliberation in executive session, council voted to remove police officer Tammy Ross and administrative clerk Ronda Huether-Etzel from probationary status and give them each a pay raise.