2020 will be remembered as the year of cancellation and isolation as Coronavirus spread across the nation and world.
We felt it too in our little hometown. As it spread around the world, COVID-19 began to have its effects in our own hometown beginning in February. Vic and Janice Means were some of the first people in the U.S. to be quarantined, as they were among those on cruise ships in which it broke out in February.
March and April saw the cancellations of events beginning with the Rogue Art and Texas Wine Show, the Wildflower Art Show, Barrow Brewing’s anniversary and Northbound and Down. Almost every major event in Salado was canceled. Students who were released for Spring Break never went back to school. (See School Year in Review on page 1C this edition). Then restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and non-essential businesses were closed across the state.
Businesses began to reopen in May, but with severe restrictions. In July, Bell County Judge David Blackburn issued a mask requirement that remains in place at this time.
Despite the closures, sales tax revenues to local governments bucked the downward trends and continued to show increases.
Local churches were closed for a time due to COVID-19 restrictions. Many began streaming their services online and continue to do so. After opening for face-to-face services, many churches again closed for in-person services due to the fall increase in COVID-19 cases.
Gatherings were discouraged and families sought alternate ways to get together, including drive-by showers, outdoor baptisms and more, in 2020.
The Library adapted to COVID-19 by offering Facebook storytime and curbside pickup of books
The impact of COVID-19 forced local elections across the state to be moved from May to November. The ballot was a full one as the majority of people chose to vote early in November.
Prior to the election, Melinda Luedecke resigned as County Elections Administrator, effective Sept. 8. Matthew Dutton was named Interim Elections Administrator. The County Elections Committee approved a new job description for the position in December and has begun to take applications to permanently fill the position. After 14 years of service, Eldon Miller resigned as Elections Judge for Precinct 203 for the 2020 election. Danney McCort was appointed to replace him just before early voting began in October.
Republican incumbents Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Rep. John Carter, State Senator Dawn Buckingham and State Rep. Brad Buckley were all re-elected in November.
Locally, Michael Coggin was elected Mayor. At first, the race was contested by three-term alderman Frank Coachman resigned his position and withdrew from the race to concentrate on his duties with the Texas Music Educators Association. Jason Howard and Paul Cox were elected to the Board of Aldermen. Kim Bird and Troy Smith were re-elected to the Salado ISD Board of Trustees, joined by newly-elected member Savannah Hennig.
Also in the November election, local voters approved the formation of Bell County Emergency Services District #1. Approval of the district also allows for the adoption of a property tax rate not to exceed 10¢ per $100 valuation. Bell County Commissioners at their Dec. 21 meeting, appointed five members to the new ESD Board of Commissioners: serving an initial two-year term are Ashley Liebig, Allan Dillon and David Matthews; serving an initial one-year term are Don Engleking and Don Hogue.
Voters in JP Precinct 2 approved an initiative to allow for the retail sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption.
Not on the ballot this year was the issue of disincorporation of the Village of Salado. However, this was not for the lack of trying.
In February, a group circulated a petition to put the issue of abolishing the Village of Salado government on the ballot. It failed to reach the 400 signatures needed to put it on the ballot. The petition was circulated again before the Aug. 17 deadline to place it on the November ballot, but again failed to get the required signatures.
The Main Street sidewalk and lighting project kicked up a lot of dust in Salado in 2020. The Main Street bridge over Campbell’s Branch came down to kick off the year in early January and was replaced. The bridge replacement closed that portion of Main Street for about four weeks. Sidewalks were poured and Street lights were turned on just in time for the Holiday Season, marking the near-completion of the $5 million project. What a difference the street lights made during the Christmas Stroll! Work crews are rewiring the lights to fix intermittent issues and installing the last of safety rails along the sidewalks.
Speaking of safety rails, Keep Salado Beautiful saw the fruition of its $90,000 grant in the form of decorative safety railing along the I-35 overpass on Salado in late December.
While civil rights protests in large cities erupted into violence, Salado saw a peaceful protest called Change is Coming on the grounds of the Salado Civic Center. Other protests in the county called for the removal of the Confederate statue from in front of the Bell County courthouse. Bell County Commissioners voted 3-1 on Sept. 14 to leave the Confederate Memorial statue at its location at the northwest corner of the courthouse square until such time that the state law changes and allows Commissioners to put the issue before local voters.
The Salado salamander made headlines again in 2020. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Sept. 15 it is revising proposed critical habitat for the Georgetown and Salado salamanders. The two salamanders, found only in parts of Texas, were listed as threatened on February 24, 2014, due to the threat of degradation of their habitat and changes in water flow and quality. The public comment period was open for 60 days starting on September 15, 2020.
For the Salado salamander in Bell and Williamson counties, the proposal includes 787 acres of critical habitat in 10 units. This represents an increase of six units and 415 acres over the previous proposal.
The Bell County Adaptive Management Coalition, of which the Village of Salado, Salado Water Supply Corporation, Bell County government and Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District are all members, announced in November that it was opposed to the habitat designation and will make comments to the USFWS to that effect.
The Village is trying to finish its seer project by connecting a handful of initial sewer customers that were sent final warnings in November.
The Village may also extend the sewer to two new developments in 2021. Sanctuary broke ground in March on the first phase of its residential development off of Royal Street.
The Village also began the annexation process of Eagle Heights, a residential and commercial development at the intersection of Williams Rd. and West Village Rd., in November.
The two developments may add more than 350 new users when the first phases are built-out.
Village aldermen voted this fall to apply for a $75,000 Texas Parks and Wildlife grant for construction of an all abilities playground to replace the playground equipment at Pace Park. The total cost for replacing the equipment is $250,000.
The Village on Dec. 17 approved a 30-day trial period for use of five license plate cameras followed by a yearly contract of $12,000 for the continued use of the cameras. Aldermen began discussing the program in October.
County commissioners prepared for current and future growth in the Salado area by authorizing County Judge David Blackburn to enter into a real estate purchase agreement for a 2.4 acre property and building at 11057 Event drive in Salado for an amount not to exceed $1.65 million. The property will house the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace and Constable offices.
The court on Dec. 21 also hired an architectural firm to design an expansion of the Bell County Jail.
The year got a hopeful kick-off with the annual Salado Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet in January. Deanna Whitson was named the 2019 Citizen of the Year. Horizon Bank was named the 2019 Business of the Year. Marilyn Fleischer was named to the Hall of Fame.
As 2020 comes to an end, vaccines for COVID-19 began distribution in Bell County, spurring hopes for a return to normalcy in 2021.
Please be sure to eat plenty of black eyed peas and collared greens to boost good luck and fortune in 2021.