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Blanco City Council Ponders Survey, Easement Issues

At its December 8 meeting, members of the governing body of Blanco heard presentations from citizens in the Citizen Presentations portion of the meeting. Resident Curtis Knutson complained of a mosquito problem near his home on Highway 165 due to poor drainage along the highway. Mayor Peele said the city would look into the problem. EMS board member Pat Clewell spoke on behalf of the Blanco EMS, reporting that the new director Ben Oakley, is "doing a great job" in his position as director of both north and south Blanco County EMS. She gave council members a copy of the EMS newsletter and requested to get on the agenda monthly to update council on EMS activity.

In his Mayor's Comments, Mayor Bruce Peele updated council on progress toward hiring a city administrator, with a committee of five individuals reviewing the 20 applications that have been received. He said that the applicant pool has been narrowed to three, with interviews with city council scheduled for the following week. He also introduced new city secretary Robert Seward, saying he is very happy to have Seward working for the city and that Seward "brings a lot of experience and professionalism" to the job.

Council continued discussion on the definition of "immediate family" in the city's Personnel Policy, allowing paid leave for employees to take care of parents, children, and the immediate family of a spouse. The previous policy required that the immediate family member reside with the employee. An updated Personnel Policy was distributed to council members for consideration at a future city council meeting. The mayor asked council members to submit any suggestions to city hall.

Council approved the appointment of two new commissioners to the Blanco Historical Commission—Keith McClellan and Mary Harris—and the appointment of a new commissioner—Mike Green—to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Mayor Peele thanked each of them for their willingness to serve and said he looked forward to seeing their work.

Mayor Peele explained a resolution to authorize him to request grant funding under the Capital Area Council of Governments requests for Applications of the Regional Solid Waste Grants program. He said the $5K grant would be used to get large drop-off containers placed in the yards of individuals who have large amounts of trash and have been unable to dispose of it. When asked how the city would determine who is eligible to get a container, the mayor responded that the code compliance officer, with the help of Good Samaritan Center, could determine financial need. The grant requires matching funds from the city. Council approved the resolution.

The next agenda item involved a request to authorize the city to obtain an appraisal for property in an unused right-of-way near 14th Street that Jason Wheeler would like to purchase because it runs through other property he owns. Council approved allowing the city to get an appraisal but also requested more information as to how Wheeler plans to use the .8 acre parcel. The appraisal would cost $600.

The next agenda item also resulted in a vote to allow the city to have a new survey done, this on a piece of contested property which is owned by Gail and Keith McClellan but which lies in the city right-of-way on an unused portion of 15th Street, according to a survey. According to the McClellans, the property was purchased in 1969 and has had a mobile home on it since 1970. One suggestion made by the mayor was to lease the land to the McClellans, but Gail McClellan said she "is reluctant to enter a lease agreement on land we believe we own." The other option suggested by the mayor was to enter into a non-encroachment agreement, which would allow the McClellans use of the land until the mobile home is no longer there. Council member Maria Guerrero suggested that the same sorts of boundary issues exist all over town based on old surveys. Mrs. McClellan concluded, "This is a heritage for my family." Mayor Peele countered, "My responsibility is to protect city property for all the citizens of Blanco." Council member Lindsey Cameron made a motion for the city to order a new survey, and council member Tony Vela seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.

Council next approved an Investment Strategy and Policy for the city of Blanco, which was developed by the mayor and council member Cameron after attending a workshop. As the mayor explained, cities should have an investment policy, which is reviewed annually but which the city has never had.

Planning and Zoning chair Martha Gosnell reported that members of the Blanco Ministerial Alliance had come before the commission requesting a waiver of fees for their charitable events. The Blanco sign ordinance mandates an annual fee of $25, which allows a charitable organization to have four signs a year. P&Z had recommended that the city consider modifying the ordinance for all charitable entities. Tony Vela, chair of P&Z at the time the sign ordinance was written, stated his opinion that P&Z had requested input from community organizations at the time the ordinance was written, and that, "It was done with great care. It should stand." Council member Bharat Patel gave his opinion that the city can't keep making exceptions to the rules. The mayor commented, "We are in an interesting phase of code enforcement where it is just now being enforced, and people are complaining." Cameron said, "It's just a part of life—you have to do it." A motion by Vela to keep the ordinance as it stands, not granting a waiver to churches, passed unanimously.

Police Chief Mike Ritchey reported that the November statistics for his department show a high number of criminal trespass citations, due primarily to meth addicts creating a disturbance in businesses or in homes where they have been allowed to stay. The largest number of citations was written by Officer Whisenant, whom the mayor praised. Chief Ritchey also reported that his talks with TxDOT will result in lowering the speed limit on South Highway 281 due to a number of accidents in the vicinity of Stripes. The radar trailer is also back in service, he reported, and will change location periodically. Guerrero asked if the department would be doing "drive-by" checks as requested by residents who are planning to be out of town. Ritchey replied that the department asks residents questions to ascertain who has a key to the property if a problem arises, and how many cars will be in the driveway. He said all information is confidential. He added that there is still one vacancy in the department. He also reported an incident in which two pit bulls got in a fight, resulting in a bill of $160 to the city for their care by the local veterinarian. One of the owners has gone on Facebook with comments critical of the police department, according to Ritchey. "We are not equipped to deal with these issues," commented Ritchey. When asked why the city was paying the vet bill, Ritchey replied that the owner must go to municipal court and pay restitution to the city.

Public Works Director Nathan Cantrell reported that there have been a number of leaks in city water lines, most in lines of less than ¾" in diameter. The department has rented a mobile dredge to suction out sand behind the dam to clear an intake valve, and that "Hopefully we will be back on our water next week." A secondary intake valve below the dam may also need to be cleaned out. Guerrero asked if the city reads every meter every month and was told it does. Cantrell said the city is replacing 10-15 older meters every month. Other upgrades will include mapping water lines to determine valve locations. The mayor said a water rate study is also being done. Bids are being let for paving in the Garden Oaks subdivision, but it will be an expensive project, over $50K , not chip-seal. The mayor said the goal is to re-pave the whole Garden Oaks area shortly.

Following Executive Session, council voted a pay adjustment of $1 for Stacy Armstead and confirmed the hiring of Robert Seward.

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