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Happy New Year – 2021 is here! We've already had a fun snow day and our first council meeting. Only in Texas can you have such extreme weather. I hope you all enjoyed the snow. It certainly provided some great pictures for folks interested in photography, and there were some impressive snow people, especially when you consider how few opportunities exist to hone your skills.
Our first council meeting reminded me of the old saying, "great things come in small packages." Although the entire meeting lasted less than 90 minutes, the Council acted on everything from our next City Council election to awarding the contract for construction of Wastewater Treatment Plant #3.
Our City Secretary, Ann Franklin, presented all the necessary documents to ensure we have a successful City Council election for places 2 and 4 on May 1, 2021. Candidate packets were available for pick up on January 13 per State Law. Our City Manager, Paul Hofmann, has offered to provide orientation and tours of city facilities for candidates. If you have any questions, please reach out to Ms. Franklin or Mr. Hofmann.
Wastewater treatment has been an infrastructure topic around Bastrop for decades. Many of you know that the current treatment plant is well past the anticipated life expectancy. After nearly two years of planning and engineering design, the contract for building Wastewater Treatment Plant #3 was awarded to BAR contracting, Inc of Lancaster, Texas. We received 7 bids from qualified contractors, and our engineering consultant, KSA, recommended awarding the contract to the lowest qualified bidder. As you can imagine, we have to get the wastewater to the plant, requiring a collection system. Smith Contracting Company was awarded the first phase of the collection system, having the lowest bid of the 14 qualified contractors who responded to the request.
During my Mayor's report, I announced the City of Smithville had a new Mayor. Mayor Joanna Morgan was sworn in on January 11th at their council meeting. I would like to thank Mayor Saunders for his support and wish him and his family the very best. Mayor Morgan and I have already spent some time together, and I look forward to working with her. Speaking of Smithville, they are hosting the first-ever Virtual MLK Day Celebration for Bastrop County. Please visit http://www.bastropcountymlkday.com and participate in this great event, including videos and volunteer opportunities. The event's goal is the same as it has been for 29 years, raising scholarship funds for deserving students in our county.
COVID 19 remains an issue for our community, state, and nation. Bastrop County is part of the State's Trauma Service Area "O" made up of 11 counties. Unfortunately, within those 11 counties, the number of people in the hospital for COVID has been more than 15% for seven consecutive days. As a result of Governor Abbott's Executive Order GA-32, Judge Pape received a letter on January 10th requiring three things: 1) Eliminate elective surgeries 2) Businesses and Restaurants reduce from 75% occupancy to 50%, and 3) Close bars. These additional restrictions will be lifted as soon as the hospitalization rate is below 15% for seven consecutive days. For Bastrop county specifically, active cases increased by 163 this past week, and recoveries increased by 162. Unfortunately, the number of confirmed cases increased by 216. We all know the best solution is to slow the spread of the virus, reduce the number of cases, and increase the number of people vaccinated. The number of people in Bastrop County that have received at least one dose is 1,754. The vaccine is sent to Bastrop County directly from the manufacturer based on the State's allocation process. Bastrop County's Public Health Authority, Dr. Desmar Walkes, is working diligently with other doctors in the county and within the system to prepare for promised increased allocations. This is a dynamic situation, so please check out the Texas Department of State Health Services website, the Bastrop County Emergency Management website, and your personal doctor for the latest information.
Bastrop County Commissioner’s Court approved a resolution thanking the COVID-19 response team that has worked diligently since March of last year. The County's response, including testing centers and supply distribution, would not have been possible without several City of Bastrop employees. I was honored to recognize their efforts. If you see these folks in the community, please join the Council and I in thanking them for their work. Tanya Cantrell, Rebecca Gleason, Colin Guerra, Trey Job, Clint Nagy, Andres Rosales, Matt Wagner, Tracy Waldron, and Victoria Psencik. It is a true privilege to work with all the dedicated staff at City Hall.
I hope you enjoyed the 2020 Lost Pines Christmas. I am so thankful for the residents and businesses that participated in the very first “Making Bastrop Bright” – the votes have been counted, and the winners announced. Truthfully, we all win because we get to enjoy the lovely decorations. The Christmas Stroll was a success as well. If you haven’t already, please take time to do your own stroll down Main Street – shop at one of our local businesses, enjoy one of our delicious restaurants and take time to relax on a heritage bench and admire the decorations.
Special thanks to our library staff for once again providing the community with a great family event complete with pandemic safety measures. The graham cracker house decorating was amazing If you haven’t already, check out the houses online! This annual event is always one of the season’s highlights and this year was no exception, with the music getting everyone in the spirit. Citizens picked up over 300 house decorating kits, so I know many of you have your own personal decorated creations to enjoy.
Many of you are aware of the exciting news on the COVID vaccines. Information is being shared as soon as it is available. Bastrop County will be following the direction of the State Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel for distribution. Please understand that in following the Expert’s plan, there will be a roll-out of immunizations. The general public will not be receiving the vaccine for another few months. If you have questions, please go to a reliable source for information like Bastrop County Emergency Management and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), where I highly recommend the ‘Vaccine Dashboard.’ This dashboard will show the delivery of vaccines and immunizations given by county for the State of Texas.
You may have seen a new vehicle around town. I was honored to take the first official eCab ride on Tuesday, December 15th with Mayor Pro Tem Nelson. The Electric Cab of North America (eCab) has partnered with CARTS and Lone Star Clean Fuel Alliance to provide FREE cab service for Bastrop residents. I encourage you to download the “CARTS NOW” application. I can tell you firsthand how easy it is to utilize the service. The service runs from 7 am to 7 pm, Monday through Friday. But that’s not all; in January, the “on-demand” CARTS van will start providing service in Bastrop – think of it as the “uber” of public transportation.
2020 has certainly been a memorable year, and I look forward to 2021 being a year of growth and development. The new year is often a time of reflection, and I am so honored to serve as your Mayor and wish you and your family the very best.
Happy New Year!
Our last Council meeting of 2020 was productive, and we managed to have a little fun too. We covered many items from speed humps to cemetery monuments. We celebrated a birthday, recognized an employee, and enjoyed photos of our new Twelve Days of Christmas display in Fisherman's Park.
Council approved the City's first speed hump policy. Public Works Director Curtis Hancock presented an executive summary of the process, and the Council unanimously approved the resolution.
Several members of the cemetery board participated in the work session to discuss the restoration of historic headstones in Fairview Cemetery. We are blessed to have several dedicated historians committed to preserving the remarkable history represented by monuments dating back to the 1800s. Council will be considering a formal recommendation from the cemetery board in the near future.
Council approved over $200,000 to construct new sidewalks as part of the Council's strategic Sidewalk Connectivity Project. Construction will start soon. When complete, citizens will be able to walk from Jewel Hodges Park to Fisherman's Park and all the way to Bob Bryant Park.
Many of you are aware the Austin YMCA recently decided to close Bastrop YMCA effective December 18. City Manager Paul Hofmann presented the Council with a phased plan to minimize the impact to dedicated YMCA members and be respectful of our great health and fitness businesses in the community. The City will be reviewing how to provide appropriate recreational needs.
The Council spent most of the meeting on three agenda items regarding NEU Community Bastrop. The project is located just outside the city limits in our Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) and is a little over 400 acres. Council held a public hearing to consider creating a Public Improvement District (PID). The PID is a special taxing district that sells bonds to finance infrastructure on the project. Though not considered part of the City's debt, the City is the authority that administers the district. If this sounds complicated, it is. The developer, Jonathan Jenkins, gave a presentation along with his attorney and financial planner. Staff presented their findings after consulting with expert PID lawyers and financial advisors. From home building materials to a central park, the project is innovative. Several county residents voiced their support. Mr. Jenkins had some great drawings of planned construction, including a recreation center, swimming pool, and even a resort. After a lengthy discussion of the project, Mr. Jenkins requested the Council not take action on two of the agenda items. Mr. Jenkins and his team will continue to work with staff. When the time is appropriate, and there is more resolution on the details, the project will come back to Council for consideration. We are so thankful that folks are interested in being part of our community. As part of that growth, I would like to assure all our citizens that the Council is mindful of the importance of making decisions that serve the entire community for decades in the future.
As for the fun parts, we all wished Council Member Rogers a happy birthday in advance of her special day on December 28. The City Manager shared photos of "graham cracker houses" decorated by staff at our library staff's request. Stop by the Library's Annual Open HouseSaturday, December 12, from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Listen to live music, vote on your favorite graham cracker house, and maybe pick up a graham cracker house kit to make at home.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
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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