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Happy Thanksgiving, Bastrop!
City Council did not meet on November 24, so there is no update from the council meeting, but there's always information to share. I know you've all been watching the news and reading the paper about the rise in COVID cases across the nation. Thankfully in Bastrop County, our numbers remain relatively low, but we are seeing increases week over week. Together we can keep our numbers down and avoid actions that come with increased cases. Many of you know that El Paso is sending patients to San Antonio. We do not want to be in a similar situation. Please review recommendations from the CDC regarding Thanksgiving activities.
Many of you have participated in Wassail Fest in the past. Staff put together a safety plan for conducting Wassail Fest this year; however, several of our downtown businesses did not feel comfortable participating. With the recent increase of active cases, the difficult decision to cancel Wassail Fest has been made. We all know that Wassail Fest is fun, but certainly not the only reason to come to Main Street. I encourage everyone to shop at our local businesses and eat at our local restaurants to support our neighbors.
Christmas is just around the corner, and we have several events planned as part of our Lost Pines Christmas. I'm sure you are as disappointed as I am that we do not have the Lighted Christmas Parade this year. The good news is you have a chance to join us in 'Making Bastrop Bright,' our first-ever lighted holiday decorating contest. It's easy to join in the fun whether you are a resident or a business. If you haven't already signed up, please visit www.cityofbastrop.org/MakingBastropBright for all the details. We are also revising our City of Bastrop Christmas Tree Lighting event. We want everyone to participate, so we have partnered with Film Alley for the first-ever 'Virtual Tree Lighting' on November 28 in the Bastrop Convention Center parking lot, serving as a drive-in theater that night. What a great chance to share drive-in stories with folks who have never been to a drive-in! Enjoy watching the 2018 animated version of 'The Grinch' complete with a concession stand. Gates open at 4:00 pm, so come early to grab a spot. If the drive-in doesn't fit with your schedule, the tree lighting will be live-streamed on Facebook. If you haven't had a chance to check out the new sidewalks on Main Street, come on down for the 'Holiday Sidewalk Stroll' from December 10 through December 13. I hear there's a cool scavenger hunt involving Christmas ornaments. I am so thankful for our Main Street organization and the special touches they add to our community. For all the fun happening this Lost Pines Christmas season, please visit www.lostpineschristmas.com.
So friends, I hope each of you has a safe and relaxing Thanksgiving. I always enjoy reflecting on the many blessings in my life, and having the honor to serve as your Mayor is undoubtedly one of them. I am thankful for my family, friends, and neighbors in this great community.
It took a full 24 hours after being sworn in as Mayor for someone to ask me what I would do about people speeding on their street. I still receive complaints about "everybody" driving too fast, but the real concern is often the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. You might be surprised to discover the actual speed of cars on your street. While it is easy to compare 20 mph to 50 mph, the difference between 28 mph and 34 mph can be quite tricky without a radar gun. Whenever this topic comes up, "speed humps" are often requested. This week Council received a presentation from Public Works Director Curtis Hancock, outlining how the City might handle such a request. You will not be surprised that the first step is to define the problem clearly. The potential process also includes how the City will work with neighbors to address the concern and under what conditions the City might install a speed hump. If you are interested, here's a link to the presentation. There will be more discussion before Council finalizes this policy. I encourage you to provide your feedback.
Like everybody, I enjoy sharing good news. This week I had several fun things to share. The Texas Downtown Association chose our very own "Copper Shot Distillery" as the "Best Commercial Interior." Honored to be present at the announcement, I captured a great moment of Cheri Todee celebrating. A highlight last week was judging the BISD – ACE program Lego Competition. The students' creativity in preparing a "Meal for a Giant" was overwhelming – who knew giants like unicorn steaks or snake-bitten cow? Invited to answer questions from second graders at Calvary Episcopal School, I encountered a smart group of students with thoughtful questions. I spoke at the "Pinky Promise" event; an outstanding program focused on providing mammograms in Bastrop County. We know Bastrop is Cool, and thanks to Visit Bastrop, now everyone else knows it too. Visit Bastrop brought Jonas Wilson to film a video in our downtown, sharing three live performances called "Be Like Bastrop."
Many of you are aware the City Council provides HOT (Hotel Occupancy Tax) funding. The largest portion goes to our Destination Marketing Organization, Visit Bastrop. The Bastrop Opera House, the Bastrop Museum and Visitor Center, and the Lost Pines Art Center are several non-profits that also qualify for this funding. City Council requires these organizations to present updates every quarter. These updates provide accountability to the contract, and everyone in the community gets to see the benefit of providing these funds. Additionally, the City Council provides funds to the YMCA as our recreation partner. Included in the agenda packet are all presentations, and I would encourage you to take a look.
It is hard for me to believe Halloween is this weekend. If you get a chance, stop by Halloween Bash at Mayfest Park. This year's City sponsored event, which the YMCA is putting on, comprises a drive-thru trick-or-treat from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm, so put on your best costume and come by for a sweet treat. Crazy to think that soon it will be Thanksgiving and then Christmas. I must admit I am ready to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. I believe we have all changed our lifestyles because of the COVID pandemic, some changes out of necessity, and some out of creativity. One thing is for sure; we are all spending more time at home, which may be why we have seen an increase in golf cart usage around town. It is a great way to get some fresh air and see your neighbors at a safe distance. This week at Council, we approved the first reading of a revised Golf Cart Ordinance. Did you know the current ordinance only allowed a 7-day permit? Chief Nagy presented the revised ordinance, and the Council approved it with a few revisions focused on safety. The second and final reading of the ordinance will be on the next council agenda. If you own a golf cart, please take the time to review the proposal and share your feedback.
Where were you 25 years ago? I was raising two little boys that enjoyed Legos much more than schoolwork. Council Member Drusilla Rogers was opening “The Sugar Shack." On November 5, the Sugar Shack will be celebrating 25 years in business. It was an honor to celebrate and congratulate Council Member Rogers on owning a successful small business in our downtown.
This year the Veteran's Day celebration for Bastrop fell victim to COVID. With or without a car show, City Council is grateful to the men and women who have served in the armed services. This week we honored the veterans who are part of the great City of Bastrop employee family. I have the honor of serving the community with two Army veterans- Mayor Pro Tem Lyle Nelson and Council Member Bill Peterson. Please join me in thanking all veterans for their service.
Public Safety was a central theme of our Council meeting this week. Did you see the new fire trucks? If you missed the parade on National Night Out, I hope you have seen some of the great pictures. I rode with Chief Nagy, and it was terrific to see all the support for both police and fire as we drove around town. Special thanks to Chaplain Dale Burk, who provided the invocation at both National Night Out and the City Council meeting.
On a more serious note, we recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness month. The theme this year is "Unmask the Violence." Increased incidents of domestic violence are another unfortunate consequence of the COVID-19 Emergency. Council is united in our support of the Family Crisis Center and their work.
Speaking of COVID, I was able to report some good news. As of the meeting, Bastrop County, as a whole, had 116 active cases with no new cases added the last two days. With a total of 1900 reported cases, it is great news to have so few active cases. We moved into Phase 3 of the City's re-opening plan on October 5 as planned, and things are going smoothly. The library reported 50 visitors in the first two hours of opening. The face coverings and social distancing efforts are working, so please continue to do your part to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Council approved eight items on the consent agenda, including the annual Community Support Service Contracts with the Bastrop YMCA, Lost Pines Art Center, Bastrop Opera House, and the Bastrop County Historical Society Museum and Visitor Center. Please check out the planned events with each of these entities. Another item on the consent agenda was canceling the second meeting in November so that Council will meet only once in November and December this year.
Council unanimously approved a recommendation from the Parks Board to name the new trail located just south of the Pecan Park neighborhood in memory of Dorothy Skarnulis. Many of you know that Dorothy passed on July 26. Curtis Hancock made a touching presentation to Council when he presented the Park Boards' request. His words expressed all our thoughts about Dorothy and her contributions to make our community a wonderful place to live. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ed and the entire Skarnulis family.
During my Mayor's report, I was able to brag about voting on the first day of early voting. If you have not yet voted, please make it a priority. Kristen Miles and her team have made the process efficient and easy to exercise your most precious right as a citizen. I also had a chance to share a sweet email from a citizen impressed with the customer service they received from Finance Specialist Mari Tipton while purchasing their cemetery plots. Thank you, Mari, for providing excellent customer service!
Looking ahead, Halloween is just around the corner, and Pecan Street will be closed to vehicular traffic from 6 to 8 pm as it was last year. The Bastrop YMCA is hosting a "drive-thru" Halloween at Mayfest Park from 5 to 7 pm.
NASCAR is coming to Circuit of the Americas next year, and on the weekend of May 21, 2021, you'll have a chance to see NASCAR drivers turn both left and right.
I have a favorite driver, but I know better than to share such a personal preference.
Tuesday’s Council Meeting had a special twist. There were two Council Meetings where two significant items were covered – the City Budget and Tax Rate. The law requires we have one public hearing, and our City Charter requires two readings on both. This week we completed the public hearing and the first reading, and both items passed unanimously. The proposed budget is available to review on-line and in-person here at City Hall. If you’d like to do that, please call City Secretary Ann Franklin to set up an appointment.
The tax rate voted on last night was $0.5794/$100 of valuation. If you own a house worth $209,000 (this is the average value of a home in the area), your taxes will increase $32 per year based on this tax rate. Council clarified that the rate voted on was lower than the proposed rate from August 4. If you would like to share comments or feedback and didn’t get a chance last night, please join us for the second reading at City Hall on September 22, 6:30 pm.
The second meeting started at 7 pm and followed our standard agenda. Special thanks to Chaplain Woods for giving our invocation. Presentations included a proclamation recognizing September 2020 as National Library Card Sign-Up Month. I am so proud of our library staff. They have continued to provide excellent service to all library members during these unprecedented times and in remarkably creative ways.
I reported the crane for wall panel installation at the 921 building completed its task last week despite inclement weather. The building remains on schedule for completion in late October, and we are looking forward to having The Art Institute students arrive in January.
Did your power go out last Saturday night? Probably not, but 30 homes on Pecan Street were out of power for about an hour after a tree limb touching the power line began smoldering. The great crew at BP&L went to work about 11 pm Saturday and restored service. We all love the gorgeous trees we have around town, but they can cause power outages when they grow into our system. Keep an eye out for tree trimmers working to help with the issue over the next few weeks.
I reported the latest information on COVID cases. Bastrop County is down to 149 active cases as a result of people’s social distancing and wearing masks, so please keep up the great work. We discussed moving to Phase 3, which means opening buildings like City Hall as well as the Convention and Senior Centers with safety protocols in place. I shared with Council my intent to move to Phase 3 on October 1 based on the information available now. We will consider this at our next Council meeting when we have data for the two weeks after Labor Day and school openings.
Municipal government follows lots of rules. Federal, State, and local ordinances - we follow them all. Council sets policy within those laws, and last night we approved: City Council Rules and Procedures (which also apply to our Boards and Commissions), the Purchasing Policy, the Financial Management Policy, and the Purchasing Card policy. Rest assured, your City Council takes their fiduciary responsibilities seriously.
I appointed 24 people to various Boards and Commissions, and the Council unanimously approved them. I always share the “breakdown” of the annual appointments. This year’s numbers are:
• 13% new to serving on a Board
• 46% live downtown
• 46% live inside the City limits but not downtown
• 8% live in the ETJ (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction)
• 50% female
• 50% male
Special thanks to all the citizens who engage and help our community thrive.
That’s all for this week!
As Mayor, I’m always looking for ways to improve communication from City Hall. I thought I would share a summary of our Council Meeting Tuesday night for those of you who don’t “do” Facebook or prefer reading as opposed to “twitter” – this is for you.
We had a full agenda covering everything from the yellow dots on Wilson Street to sidewalks on Water Street. I’d like to share the highlights of the meeting.
We started by welcoming a special guest. Police Chaplain Bob Long offered our invocation. It was great to have one of our chaplains inside Council Chambers, and although his presence was brief, it was appreciated by all.
Our City Manager, Paul Hofmann, gave an update on the Main Street Rehabilitation Project. The total project is 75% complete, with the sidewalks at 90%. The plan is for paving to begin in late September with the work happening at night, and it is going to be great when it’s finished.
Mr. Hofmann also reported a terrific grant that Becca Sexton, our Librarian, discovered. If awarded, the grant allows the purchase of 10 laptops and 10 hot spots to create social distancing and increase computer access through our City of Bastrop Library.
We also discussed Lost Pines Christmas. Along with many other communities across the nation, we are not able to safely have our annual Lighted Christmas Parade. We will, however, still celebrate in 2020. Plans are being discussed for a virtual tree lighting, swapping out some of the decorations along the Riverwalk/Trail of Lights, and even adding a little color this year. We want all of our neighborhoods to be a part of the celebration, so stay tuned for more details.
September is “National Preparedness Month,” and I read a Proclamation to recognize the importance. In Bastrop, we have survived fires and floods, and each of us knows the importance of being prepared. This hot weather combined with dry soil conditions create fire hazards, so please make sure you’ve taken every precaution to protect your family, friends, and neighbors.
Have you seen the “yellow dots” installed on July 13 on Wilson Street as part of a pilot plan to slow traffic? Last night we reviewed data on speed reduction (there was a minor improvement) and feedback from citizens. Council directed the City Manager to remove them. Neighbors concerned about the speed of cars are not unique to Wilson Street. Council remains worried about pedestrian safety, and we asked the City Manager to bring back policy on “speed humps” and to review our long-term strategy on sidewalks. There will be more discussion, including an opportunity for feedback from residents, before making any final decisions.
Speaking of sidewalks, Council approved staff applying for a “Downtown Revitalization” Grant for $500,000 to improve the sidewalks and road on Water Street. Exact scope is not yet defined, but it is expected to start at Walnut, head north to Farm Street, and include ADA ramps, repairs to existing and installation of new sidewalks to complete gaps, milling of the street, and finally repaving.
At each Council meeting, I give a brief report. Last night I thanked Union Pacific for completing the much-needed track and crossing maintenance. I also let everyone know there will be a large crane in town next week, installing wall panels as part of the construction of 921 Main. As many of you know, The Art Institute is leasing 921 Main for classroom space. Their current plans are to have students in the building by January.
Mayor Connie Schroeder is a 17-year resident of Bastrop. During that time, she has served on the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission for 6 years, chaired the 2016 Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, and was elected the first female Mayor of the City in 2017 and was unopposed and re-elected in 2020.
She currently serves on the Texas Municipal League Board and has earned the “Certified Municipal Official” designation the last three years. The Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association awarded Mayor Schroeder the Planning Advocate Excellence Award, and she was also recognized as the Civic Leader Changer Maker for Central Texas by Generation Citizen, both in 2019.
Mayor Schroeder is an Honors Graduate of The University of Texas at Austin and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. She became a licensed Professional Engineer in 1989 and has a background in design, project management and construction of major transportation and development projects in both the public and private sector. She retired from Motorola/Freescale after a 15-year career in the high-tech industry.
She and her husband, Charlie, enjoy serving their community and cherish time with their children and grandchildren.
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