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2017 highlighted by skate park, snow

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Posted: Wednesday, January 3, 2018 12:35 pm

With 2017 now part of the record books, Bandera County residents can start wondering, maybe even worrying, about what to expect from the next 12 months of activity.

The past year brought no monumental changes to the City of Bandera, though a long-anticipated skate park did get built on a tract just outside of Bandera City Park, a bronze replica of widely recognized bronco buster statue replaced a fountain in Bandera’s Heritage Park and tax-financed incentives were moving towards completion for developers planning a nearly $5 million, Best Western Hotels & Resort project in downtown Bandera.

Officials anticipate that work will start on that hotel this year.

The skate park development produced rancor, as residents near the proposed park complained that it would create problems in their neighborhood. Some eventually filed suit against the city for allegedly changing the location of the park improperly.

That suit was dismissed by a state district judge, and the park opened in September.

City government continued to have its comings and goings.

A new councilman, Justin Knight, won a runoff just before 2017 started but did not seek reelection when the one-year term he was elected for expired in November.

Meanwhile, incumbent Councilwoman Sheila Pumphrey lost her seat in May when council declared that her recuperation from a health emergency kept her from maintaining her residency in the city.

Council appointed former Councilwoman Lynn Palmer to replace Pumphrey in June, and then Palmer was one of three women elected to a full, two-year term on council in November.

Also elected then was incumbent Councilwoman Rebeca Gibson, who is the council’s mayor pro tem, and political newcomer Christine Morse.

Bandera also began and ended the year without a city administrator.

Linda Coones, a former interim finance director in Fair Oaks Ranch, was hired in March to replace an administrator who resigned in December 2016, but on Dec. 16, 2017, Coones resigned after facing harsh criticism from some on council for her management capabilities.

Mayor Suzanne Schauman and City Secretary Jill Shelton are filling in for the administrator while council decides how to proceed on replacing Coones.

The city’s public works director’s post, which had been vacant for more than a year, is in the process of being filled by Martin Park from Tomball, officials said.

Bandera strived to address problems in its water system that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had identified a year earlier.

In 2017, the commission fined the city $1,120 for when Bandera failed to meet reporting deadlines on the planned improvements. No additional deadlines were violated, but the improvements still are far from being completed.

Bandera businesses received grants and a few loans from the Bandera Economic Development Corp. for the first time to start or improve their businesses and to upgrade the facilities from which they operate.  The EDC set aside $285,000 for those business incentives with the intent of helping more businesses get started, helping existing businesses perform better and improving the inventory of structures that house businesses.

 The city this year also erected a flagpole and a plaque in Bandera City Park in honor of retired Marine Master Sgt. Rodney L. Buentello a little more than a year after he drowned while rescuing two teens from the swirling waters under the Medina River spillway in the park.  A ceremony dedicating the memorial was held in June. 

Bandera County Commissioners in December heard from the architectural firm it retained to evaluate   renovations for the county’s historic courthouse and jail complex on 12th Street.   The firm said its initial review shows the complex could be upgraded into a visitors’ center or some other type of public facility for $1.4 million.

Commissioners plan to come back this year with a more detailed plan on how to use the building along with recommendations on whether to complete the upgrades in phases rather than at one time. 

Also in 2017, the Medina Independent School District hired Kevin Newsom, formerly the superintendent at the Brackett Independent School District, as its new superintendent, and voters in that district approved a $5.95 million bond package to improve outdated systems, repair existing buildings and add instructional space in the school district.

Construction on those projects are not expected to start before spring of this year.

Utopia Independent School District Superintendent John Walts said he would retire in May of this year after 15 years as the Utopia superintendent.

Bandera United Methodist Church turned 150 in 2017, and St. Stanislaus Catholic Church received a new pastor, Rev. Monsignor Francis Kurzaj, a native of a region of Poland that also was home to immigrant families who settled Bandera and started the church in the 1850s.

In an effort to control the spread of chronic wasting disease in the area’s deer population, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department established a containment zone covering portions of Medina, Uvalde and Bandera counties requiring hunters who kill deer within the zone to have the animals tested for the disease.

Family Dollar come close to finishing a branch in Medina during the year, despite concerns from some Medina residents about its impact on traffic and on the town’s down-home atmosphere, and a longstanding Labor Day weekend celebration called Celebrate Bandera continued this year under a new name, Experience Bandera.  It also had new sponsors after the Bandera Community Foundation decided it could not support the celebration again.

The annual rodeo put on by the Bandera ProRodeo Association drew huge crowds when flooding stayed away for a change over the Memorial Day weekend, but the county still experienced some unusual weather conditions during 2017.

That include hail in January that caused extensive damage in the Medina area and snowfall in December that left more than 2 inches of snow in some areas.  More freezing temperatures were anticipated as 2017 became 2018.

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