In the aftermath of a recent traffic fatality at the intersection of Highway 281 and Blanco Road, local resident Anna Barker, supported by several neighbors, spoke to the governing body of Blanco at their regular meeting on August 12 in support of a traffic signal. Acknowledging that TxDOT is responsible for traffic signals on main highways, Barker said that she has spoken to TxDOT representative Terry Brussel, Representative Patrick Rose, and county commissioner Paul Granberg to enlist their support. “The next time there are accidents and fatalities, it may be a school bus,” she cautioned. Council member Ron Houston commented that sometimes having a fatality at an intersection does expedite getting a signal there. After a motion by Tina Gourley, council voted that the mayor would send a letter to TxDOT on behalf of the city of Blanco.
Two entities apparently unfamiliar with the process by which the city of Blanco formulates its annual budget came before council requesting funds for their activities after the budget process in July had already been completed and the 2008-09 budget adopted. Tina Morrow, a spokesperson for the Blanco Senior Citizens’ Program, operated by Community Action, Inc., requested funding to support the various programs operated out of Gem of the Hills Senior Center. Thanking the city for its past support, she requested $3000 to supplement the director’s salary. Elizabeth Begay, the new director, acts as liaison for many senior assistance programs, including coordinating the Meals on Wheels program, which currently delivers meals to over 26 senior citizens in Blanco each week, the CARTS program, energy assistance, and various other programs at the center. Acknowledging that the city had already set aside $2500 for the program, the mayor reminded Morrow that the budget workshops are in July. Council member Tina Gourley expressed concern that 77 percent of the organization’s costs go to the administrator’s salary. Morrow responded that the work could not be done without the director, who makes home visits in addition to her duties at the center. In answer to Gourley’s question about the use of volunteers, Morrow responded that all the drivers for Meals on Wheels are volunteers. Council member Rebecca Howerton, commending the work done by Gem of the Hills, said, “I bet if we tried real hard, we could find that other $500” in the budget. Ron Houston added, “You guys do great work.” By a unanimous vote, council approved the funding request for $3000.
Chamber of Commerce director Julie Dill also came before council with a funding request for $7500, earmarked for economic development. In previous remarks before the council at the budget workshops in July, Dill had explained that the chamber wants to form an economic development committee to “conduct research, prioritize, and implement projects designed to increase prosperity for Blanco through tourism, business recruitment, . . . and most importantly, existing business retention and expansion.” Further, the funding would be designated for staffing, enabling Dill to work more hours by raising her salary. During the budget process, council approved raising the amount of Hotel/Motel tax revenues given to the chamber from 80 to 90 per cent. However, council did not approve the $7500 request for economic development/staffing at that time. Consequently, Dill repeated her request as part of her report to council on chamber activities. City attorney Ricky Simmons interjected that the governing board of the chamber needs to make the request rather than Dill herself. Expressing his frustration at her request, Mayor Rodrigue said, “The city is paying for this. Do you work for us or the Chamber?” Tina Gourley, who had recently attended a conference about economic development, responded that the chamber “is working for the city.” Ron Houston commented, “It is the money of the citizens of Blanco—we want to be responsible.” Mayor Rodrigue added, “I’m not sure that adding $7500 to her salary will help the city. We’ve already raised the hotel-motel tax to 90 per cent. I think we’re already pretty heavily invested.” Dill presented a list of the benefits brought by the Lavender Festival with the help of the chamber. The mayor pointed out that the first lavender festival was organized by the growers with the help of Chamber director Sue McFarlin and was a grass-roots movement. “Sue is a great part of where the chamber is today, he added. In reference to the salary increase, Rodrigue concluded, “I don’t agree with doing it that way.” After a lengthy discussion by council, Tina Gourley moved to grant the chamber’s request for $7500 for economic development. The motion passed on a divided vote with Gourley, Pautz, and Howerton in favor and Ray and Houston opposed.
As a member of the Visionaries in Preservation project, Dill also made a request of council for $12,500 in matching funds for a grant to write design guidelines. The deadline for submitting the grant is August 28, causing the mayor to say, “I feel like we are held over a gun with this deadline.” A discussion ensued in which Dill reminded council members that both Houston and Bobby McClung had served on a committee which dealt with developing comprehensive design guidelines. Tina Gourley said that she had been told by McClung that the money was set aside for the grant in the budget. Bobbie Mowery countered that she was told the money would not be needed this year. Both Doug Pautz and Danny Ray expressed reservations about what guidelines might bring, but for different reasons. Pautz said, “I’m balking at voting on developing guidelines that will become ordinances that people will not be comfortable with.” Ray expressed the opposite view that guidelines which are simply “advisory” will be worthless. Dill explained that the city, along with the historical commission and planning and zoning, would determine which guidelines would be useful. Ray also asked about the credentials of the architect who would work with the city, adding, “Architects are not God!” Dill said that members of VIP were getting discouraged that no implementation of their ideas was taking place. Wayne Gosnell, a member of VIP, said that the guidelines are designed to “flesh out” the UDC. Houston asked, “Why couldn’t we assemble local people to develop guidelines and save $25,000? “ Dill countered that professionals would do a better job and more quickly. The issue of in-kind donations of time by local designers and architecture students was discussed before a final vote was taken. Tina Gourley moved to use the money that was set aside to pursue a grant, provided that the issue of in-kind donations is pursued. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote, with Pautz, Gourley, and Howerton in favor, and Ray and Houston opposed.
Retta Martin updated council on the work of the Blanco Historical Commission, including a walking tour brochure which has been developed by Becky Greathouse. The mayor said that the city will be pursuing grants to make the Byars Building into a local history museum. The commission has recommended that Linda Howard take the place of Charles Willgren; however, the mayor recommended that public notice be given of the three vacancies on the commission in order to get more people to apply. Martin explained the criteria for membership, including a knowledge of and interest in historic preservation. Letters have also been sent to owners of historic buildings asking if they would like to have their buildings designated as local landmarks.
Martin also reported on the activities of Keep Blanco Beautiful, including an upcoming fundraiser to hire planners for streetscaping around three sides of the square. Several new members will be working with educational activities and reducing cigarette litter. Local philanthropist David Key has also initiated a Lamp Lighter project for historic lighting around the square.
In other business, council awarded administration of the 2008 Community Development Block Grant for the continuation of the sewer project to Langford Community Management Services. Marvin Reavis was chosen as the supervising engineer for the project. Rebecca Howerton and Tina Gourley cast the two dissenting votes. By a unanimous vote, a resolution was approved to submit a CDBG for continuation of the project in 2009.
Council voted to give resident Maurine Banks a one-time reduction on her water bill due to a malfunctioning water heater and subsequent leak under the slab of her house which required excavation for repairs.
A Planning and Zoning ordinance requiring members to live within the city of Blanco was changed to allow P&Z to choose the best person for the job.
Council voted to let bids for a skid steer at a cost of $36,000, with a one-year warranty. “I don’t know how we’ve done without it for all these years,” declared the mayor.
Sergeant Carl Bragg reported 236 citations in the month of July, most for speeding. Ron Houston informed council that Chief Ed Sonier has promoted Bragg to full-time investigator. Bragg said that the investigation is continuing into the animal cruelty case involving a local puppy and that several other major investigations are nearing the point when warrants can be issued.
Council also approved the installation of stop signs at intersections along Pecan Street, removing yield signs at some corners to eliminate confusion. After discussion in executive session, council voted to hire Brandon Born to work for the public works department. Born has already been helping maintain Bindseil Park’s landscaping.