Mayor Pro-Tem Bobby McClung opened the April 14 meeting of the governing body of Blanco with what he called "decent news" about Mayor Chuck Homan's medical status. The mayor, who recently underwent a medical procedure for cancer, is actually suffering from chronic bronchitis and is on the mend. McClung said Homan sends his best.
On the regular agenda, council voted to approve the appointment of Amil Baker to the Planning and Zoning Commission, following a recommendation from P&Z chair Bruce Peele. McClung reminded those in attendance of Baker's involvement with P&Z at the beginning of its existence and his work in establishing the Unified Development Code (UDC). Baker responded with the assurance that "I will work very hard for this city — that's why I'm here." Peele added that P&Z still needs one more member.
Council also approved Peele's request for $50 to buy a digital video recorder to assist secretary Matt Lewis in taking minutes of the commission's meetings. After discussion, Peele informed council that he has found what he calls "deficiencies" in the city's Rezone Permit Application and Rezone Permit Checklist and has worked on revisions. He has submitted these to the city's liaison, Olga Gamez, for feedback and plans to bring them back to council for approval. McClung responded, "We appreciate your taking the initiative." No council action was required.
A resolution to allow Blanco to apply for a TxDOT grant in regards to a Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Corridor was approved by council after McClung explained details of the grant, which would require a 20 percent match of funds by the city. The project is estimated to cost $678k. Public Works Director Nathan Cantrell, who speculated that it would probably come from the Community Development Fund, answered a question from Maria Guerrero as to where the city's portion of the funding would come from.
Blanco Volunteer Fire Department vice-president Dave Lageman reported on changes in the fire department since March 1, when a reorganization plan took effect, changing the makeup of the department from primarily paid firefighters to a volunteer organization with one paid firefighter, nine volunteers, and three volunteers in training. Explaining that the department's fiscal year runs from October to September, Lageman gave statistics of 102 calls so far this year, including four structure fires, three vehicle fires, 16 land fires, 24 motor vehicle accidents, nine with injuries, two burn ban violation investigations, seven rescues, and 12 EMS assists. The average response time was seven minutes, a statistic that Lageman said the department and the community should be proud of. He also notified council that the department board has voted to proceed with an ISO audit since the last one was done 20 years ago. ISO ratings determine the rates for fire insurance. He suggested that council members go to the ISO website to look at guidelines and then have "a dialogue" with the department to determine how the department should proceed.
Martin, in her role as Blanco Historic Preservation Commission chair, reported that the commission voted to approve a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) for a new sign for the Blanco Bowling Alley. She explained that, although the current sign violates the signage ordinance, it is part of the history of the building, which is a Blanco icon. Therefore the commission has voted to allow the new sign to simply be an update of the current one, lit from within. In her Streetscape role, Martin reported that the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDOT) is waiting for architect John Klein to provide information on curbing on the north side of the square. As Keep Blanco Beautiful chair, Retta gave information on the Annual Trash-Off, which was scheduled to take place April 18.
In his monthly report Police Chief Mike Ritchey commended the organizers of Wild Woman Weekend and the Real Ale 19th Anniversary Party for doing a great job, with no incidents related to either event. He reported that overall statistics are up, with 34 citations and 39 violations, but that the goal is to make Blanco a safe place to drive, not to be known as a speed trap. There was more contact of officers with violators, without as many citations being written. Ritchey also notified council that the second new police vehicle is now on the road, using money from the department's budget, and that the department has a good fleet of vehicles with one extra for the reserve officer.
In other discussion, due to confusion in the authorization process for disbursement of HOT funds, council asked recipients of funds to re-submit their requests to council. McClung prefaced the presentations by saying, "I want to thank the committee for the work they did, but recommendations need to come before the council for approval." Council voted to dissolve the HOT Funds Committee at a special meeting on April 7. He also explained that, although $95K was budgeted for HOT funds disbursement, the city actually collected $110 K. A budget amendment is needed to increase the disbursements to match money collected.
Old Blanco County Courthouse Society president Jim Harris stated that the courthouse meets three criteria for funding — providing the town a visitor center, advertising for tourism, and historic restoration projects. He called the courthouse "the heart of Blanco"— known far and wide and written up in the New York Times as "A Hill Country Town with Hollywood Credentials." From October 2013 to September 2014, OBCCPS documented 3833 visitors who actually signed the courthouse visitor register, 58 major events, and 568 hotel stays. The HOT funds application asked for $25,000 for historic preservation projects, $18,000 for the visitor center, and $10,000 for advertising. In response to a question by council member Danny Ray as to the cost of maintaining a seven day a week visitor center, he was told that the cost of utilities and water is high, and that the courthouse is "the city's restroom" for visitors. Harris shared the immediate need for a new roof costing $200,000 to prevent leaks and damage to the courthouse ceiling. He asked those in attendance to imagine Blanco without a courthouse and concluded, "For us to keep Blanco strong, please consider giving as much money as possible."
Blanco Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau director Libbey Aly recounted the history of HOT funds, crediting former director Julie Dill for alerting the community to the revenue to be generated by them and the growth of the Lavender Festival due to the chamber's promotion. Assuring those in attendance that the chamber and the courthouse are not fighting, she said, "We get along fine. Together we are the face of Blanco." She said that cuts to disbursement from the chamber's $45,000 request to the $30,000 it received involved cuts to advertising as well as administrative fees. "We are going to ask for the $38,000 to get our administrative fees restored."
In other action, council member Martin Sauceda resubmitted his request for $500 for a Blanco County baseball tournament involving 18 teams, some from as far away as Oklahoma. The money was to be used for trophies. His request falls under the HOT fund criteria of sporting events. He said the funds could wait until a budget amendment is passed next month.
Libbey Aly concluded the discussion by saying to council, "Now the ball is in your court. If city council is going to take this job over, you should look at applications and the 2014 post-event reports. If we're going to fix it, let's make sure it's really fixed." Council passed a motion to table all requests except the one for the baseball tournament and to hold a workshop to look at all applications.
In the Public Comments portion of the meeting, resident Wayne Gosnell read a prepared statement lamenting the lack of civility in the controversy over disbursement of Hotel-Motel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds and saying that the town is being "torn apart" by accusations and "vile" comments being made, "nullifying... how friendly and tolerant our citizens are toward each other." He recommended an independent investigation, including a financial audit of the HOT funds, how the HOT Funds Advisory Committee was established, how the money was disbursed, the process by which the city "did or did not approve the committee's recommendation," and how and by whom checks were written to the organizations deemed eligible to receive funds under the nine criteria for receiving money. His comments echoed concerns raised in a memorandum from the mayor and Bobby McClung to city council given out at a special meeting April 7, and the response to the memorandum by HOT Funds Committee chair Maria Guerrero, which was given out at the beginning of this meeting.
New resident Greg Ortiz asked how he could apply for HOT funds for his business, 281 Wine Tours, and was told he should come to the (HOT Funds) Committee or to the city's budget workshops in July. A list of criteria for receiving funds is available at the city offices, McClung explained. He also indicated that some other entity will be "vetting" requests for money, whether a "reconstituted" HOT Funds Committee or a visitors' bureau of some kind.
Blanco Best Western Hotel owner Bharat Patel requested that no more HOT funds be disbursed until the criteria are refined, existing advertising should be limited to 100 miles away so that people would have to spend the night in Blanco, and that the criteria for the disbursement of money in other communities such as Dripping Springs should be examined. He also recommended the creation of a convention and visitor's bureau as the entity for handling HOT funds.
Resident Retta Martin asked that the city not lose sight of the need to update the Comprehensive Master Plan, which was formulated ten years ago and is in need of revision. She asked that Chris Holtkamp, who initially helped the city with the plan when he worked for LCRA, be hired as an independent consultant. City Attorney Eddy Rogers suggested that Martin contact Holtkamp to get an updated estimate for his services.
Wild Woman Weekend spokesperson Bonnie Holmes thanked the city and the police department for its support of the recent event, saying it was "very successful."
Before going into Executive Session, Bobby McClung thanked outgoing council member Danny Ray for his service. "You've done a great job," he said.
Following Executive Session, council voted to remove Water and Sewer Department employee Norman Pocs from probation status and to increase his salary to $11 per hour.