Mayor Skip Blancett could not disguise his frustration of the last year in dealing with a storm of issues that have come before the Village of Salado Board of Aldermen, ranging from the white-tail deer population to the sewer time line to the progress of Sanctuary and the Interstate to the Salado salamander.
He took unscripted questions from the audience for 90 minutes during an open town hall meeting Jan. 24 at the Salado Civic Center.
When asked what the next step was in dealing with the deer population, he told Dr. Lewis Raney “I really don’t know.” He talked about wrangling with the issue for more than a year, listening to the advice of biologists with Texas Parks & Wildlife and other agencies. “First, we have to stop feeding the deer,” he said, “but how do you enforce that.”
He added that the Village has investigated trapping and transporting, trapping and killing and other measures to lower the deer population to a manageable level. But without money for the programs and without the will of the community to do it, little can be done.
His voice rose in frustration and perhaps even anger at the stalled time line of the sewer and the misinformation in the community from certain factions.
“We asked for $1.5 million from EDA,” Blancett said. “We got $1 million.”
Working with KPA Engineers the Village was set to put the sewer project out to bid. However, a phone call from a local citizen resulted in the Village having to conduct additional biological assessments to the tune of $77,000.
He told the audience that the assessment, according to an e-mail he read shortly before the meeting, should be done this week. The assessment had to include the potential impacts on a fresh water mussels species that may be added to the Endangered list in 2018 or 2019, the Golden Cheeked Warbler and the threatened Salado salamander.
He said that if the Village can get the final permit in, it can then begin the process of putting the work out for bid.
Work could begin by summer.
Blancett said that he sat down in December with developer Robert Sulaski of The Sanctuary. The first piece of The Sanctuary will be the construction of the large music and event venue utilizing the structure of the Wildfire Ranch Roping Arena. Wildfire Ranch has a lease on the property on the Arena through 2017, according to Billy Pipes.
“Billy Hanks has said that he also wants to build the boutique hotel” early in the development, according to Blancett.
Blancett told the audience that the Village spent a year in negotiations with The Sanctuary in order to bring it into the Village, where the Village could then have some influence on the development and some income from property and sales tax.
“If they had built a MUD (municipal utility district),” he said, “we would get nothing from them and have no say.”
He continued on the discussion of development by saying that the Village continues to field dozens of calls a month about commercial real estate and subdivisions that are interested in tying on to the sewer system when it is in place.
Bringing these developments in will spread the tax burden to a wider base and lower the overall cost per user by adding users to the system.
In the meantime, he said that he hopes the Village will purchase property on the west side of the interstate in order to have it for a future treatment plant should the need arise. “Even if we never have to build on it,” he said, “it would be a good investment to make now.”
The Village may work to attract bring land into the Village through voluntary annexation by working with developers in the ETJ through incentive programs. The Village is considering a tax rebate program of 50 percent for five years. After that the tax rate would no longer be rebated. “Fifty percent of something is a whole lot better than zero percent of nothing,” he said.
“I want to protect the growth of Salado. I do not want to be a sea of rooftops,” he said, adding that he wants to protect the historic quality of downtown Salado. “That is our brand. That is our identity. No one will take that away from us.”
He told the audience that alderman Michael McDougal is working with Bell County to chip and seal four streets in Salado this year for the cost of $36,000. “This costs only the material,” he said. “The County is paying for the labor for this.” Bell County works with most of the small municipalities in the county to offer this low cost program for regular street maintenance.
Blancett said that there continue to be rumors of disannexation. He showed a slide that tallied the total property taxes paid by the 82 signatories of last year’s disannexation petition at $20,914.70. “If they disannex, they will be disannexed from the ETJ as well and Belton can take it,” he said.
Blancett also talked about the buy out of Kim Foutz’ contract. “We were faced with spending $50,000 to $150,000 in legal fees alone on a case that could be stretched out for two years or more,” he said. “We made a choice.”
That choice cost $125,131.59 of which the Village insurance company paid $40,000.