There has been a good deal of activity in the City office and for the city crews during the past few weeks, and a number of projects are being dealt with and completed. The Water and Waste Water Department has been busy around town doing annual cleaning of the sewer lines, and has to this point cleaned nearly three miles of line in the past week, and in addition they have been working to install new aerators at the waste water treatment plant that will make a very positive impact on our sewer ponds and the processes out there. The Street Department has placed a number of needed signs around town and has worked hard to get College Street cleaned up before school started. They have repainted crosswalks and traffic aids at the school and have cleaned a significant amount of street edges to provide better parking and additional walking and bike lanes for our children’s safety. The Electric Department, in addition to assisting with other projects, is nearly complete with the upgrade of our electric distribution system. Although there are nearly 800 transformers in the entire system, only a dozen still need to be replaced and those are scheduled to be completed in the next few weeks.
The City office has also been busy, and the Proposed Budget for the coming fiscal year has been filed with the City Secretary and is available for anyone who would like to review it. Also, the proposed City tax rate has been set, and the increases in the rates and fees we charge for city services are available for review. It has been three years since a rate increase in the regular city services for water, sewer, electricity or garbage pickup, and therefore in order to keep up with the continuing cost increases the City Commission has discussed and is proposing to increase a number of the city rates. A program is under discussion to help our citizens who have the greatest difficulty in meeting additional expenses from increased rates, and if you have questions or concerns please let me know.
The City has also just hosted a workshop for the affected businesses about the need and maintenance requirements of grease traps. We had some presenters from TCEQ come in to provide quality information, and invited all the food service businesses in town to attend so there would be less confusion as we begin emphasizing this needed compliance with plumbing codes. We hope to continue working with these businesses to help prevent further accumulations of food grease from clogging our city sewer lines.
In addition to all of these local activities, we have also continued to be active in protecting our community from the possible routing of electric transmission lines in our scenic Hill Country. Last Thursday Judge Bearden and I went to Austin to state our opinions and those of our citizens before the Commissioners of the Public Utilities Commission. We felt that our statements were received openly and with due consideration, although this remains an issue with many more questions than answers, and a process with many steps before the final decision is reached. The bottom line is that we remain committed to being very clear and persistent that the concerns of Mason and our neighbors in the Hill Country are heard by the "big bureaucracy" in Austin. One of the benefits of meeting directly with the Commissioners of the PUC was getting to put a face to a name, and learning that one of them has in the past hunted in Mason County and another was raised in a rural community smaller than Mason and therefore they have some understanding of the issues from our perspective.
One of the great pleasures of serving as Mayor is the sense of "community" that impacts all of the discussions and all of the decisions in our City. Whether it is the Commission’s concerns that we raise our utility rates to generate enough income, but still help protect the person that will have a very hard time paying for those increases; or if it is the City staff that is trying to enforce a mandated grease trap ordinance by planning a workshop to help answer questions and work with the businesses that are affected to reach a reasonable solution, in most everything the City does we try to remember that together we are all part of this community. As we work to reduce the impact of transmission lines in the Hill Country, we find ourselves working together with our neighboring counties and towns because our "community" spreads beyond the city limits or the county lines. In many ways I find that the sense of community that we share in Mason spreads far, and in many directions; I recently was informed of the passing of Walt Smithe who, though he did not live here, had property in Mason and came often to look after his place and to participate in Mason activities. One of his great pleasures in Mason was his role as Santa Claus at the Tannenbam Show and the Square Lighting; and with his white hair and beard, his "Santa" physique, and his infectious Santa attitude he was perhaps the ultimate ambassador of good cheer and Mason neighborliness. Children loved him and he loved them, and our Christmas was enhanced by his participation. Mason will miss him, but while he was here he made his own personal contribution to the community and showed again the true sense of being a neighbor. This next week I hope that you will find a special way you can share in our bond of community and a way you can reach out and be a true neighbor, and in these small ways we will continue to build the very best hometown in Texas.
Your friend and neighbor, Brent Hinckley