Year: 2018

Mayor Craig Morgan: Survey results provide valuable feedback

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


Feedback is an essential tool we use to improve ourselves. Whether it’s through a supervisor at the office, a coach on a sports team or customers of a business, we can grow in all walks of life by receiving evaluations of our work and taking appropriate action.

The same can be said for myself as mayor and my fellow Round Rock City Council members. We receive feedback through many channels — at public hearings, social media and even at the grocery store or church. These comments help us implement ideas that help us tailor city ordinances as well as the budget that we pass each year.

While it’s great to hear individual feedback, the council is charged with representing all 100,000-plus residents across our city and making the best decisions for our entire community as a whole. That’s why our biennial community survey is an essential tool for us to gauge the overall sentiment of Round Rock residents.

Since 1998, the city has conducted a survey of its citizens every other year to see how well we are meeting their needs and to help set priorities for the community. ETC Institute conducts the survey in the spring to a random sample of 400-plus households across the entire city. Having this statistically valid, big picture view of public perception helps round out the individual feedback that we receive on a day-to-day basis.

So how did we fare? ETC’s major findings showed 84 percent of all residents surveyed are satisfied with the overall quality of life in Round Rock, and 82 percent are satisfied with city services. This is outstanding when compared to our peers — an average of 66 percent of Texans statewide reported being satisfied with overall quality of life in their cities and less than half of Texans reported being satisfied with the overall quality of services provided by their municipal government.

I commend our employees’ efforts to maintain and improve our city, and their constant focus on customer service. For most, Round Rock is their home, too, and they have a vested interest in keeping it a great place to live.

Round Rock residents reported being most pleased with our public safety services, including fire and police, as well as parks and recreation. Approximately 90 percent of survey respondents said they had an overall feeling of being “safe” or “very safe” in Round Rock.

We had a feeling we would see negative feedback in one category, and you can probably guess what it was: traffic.

Approximately 76 percent of residents said they feel traffic is getting worse, compared to 56 percent of respondents in 2010. Residents were also asked to rate the traffic flow in different areas of the city. Forty-five percent of respondents rated traffic flow in and around neighborhoods as “excellent” or “good,” and only 14 percent of respondents rated traffic flow on state roads and highways as “excellent” or “good.”

However, the cleanliness and maintenance of both major city and neighborhood streets received a majority of positive responses in the survey, thanks to the hard work of our transportation department and increased funding to our budget in this area.

With multiple Texas Department of Transportation projects underway on Interstate 35, Round Rock has an intimate understanding that traffic oftentimes has to get worse before it gets better. We celebrated the early opening of the FM 3406 bridge over Interstate 35 in June and look forward to more milestones as these projects are completed.

More good news: We have already put a plan in motion to prepare for the future as we are taking care of the present. In order to meet our current and future transportation demands, city staff unveiled an updated transportation master plan in October. We know what needs to be done long-term to be able to one day serve the total buildout of our city at a population of 250,000. But it comes with a hefty price tag: $1.2 billion.

Capital road improvements are also a slow process at best. New roads, drainage and pedestrian facilities must be carefully designed to serve current and future needs. Land must be acquired to construct these improvements.

Contractors must be carefully selected based on the value to the taxpayer. Stakeholders are consulted when a potential conflict arises. All of this must be done while more than 100 new residents are moving to the Round Rock-Austin area on a daily basis.

The survey also showed that climbing property taxes continue to be a concern for our residents due to rising valuations and the ongoing battle regarding state and local funding of schools — a topic you can expect to hear more about in the coming months.

As one portion of your overall property tax bill, we work to keep the city’s property tax rate among the lowest in our area while also providing the services at the level our residents expect. We have additional resources in Round Rock to accomplish road projects thanks to the voter-approved dedication of a half-cent of our sales tax, and we work closely with our regional partners to secure outside funding to supplement our road projects.

We used the survey to begin gauging general public opinion on potentially using a bond election as an additional tool to get started on even more road projects in our community — a topic we considered at our council retreat in February. More than half of survey respondents who had an opinion on the topic said they would support a bond package to fund road projects.

The conversation doesn’t stop here. I encourage you to continue engaging with the city through public meetings, community events and on social media. We recently held our first Coffee with the Mayor, which was modeled after Round Rock Police Department’s popular Coffee with the Cop program, and are currently planning another one.

I invite you to join us to share your concerns and ideas with myself and other council members to help us keep our city a place you are proud to call home.

To see the full community survey results and analysis, visit roundrocktexas.gov.

Smart Irrigation Month is Here

The HEAT is definitely on!  Welcome Summertime!

You may have heard by now, that July has been deemed “Smart Irrigation Month” by the Irrigation Association since 2005, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur (here in Central Texas, our hottest months are August and September). With high and hot temperatures come higher water use, it’s just a given. We still want our landscapes to look as good as they have the rest of the year, so we crank up the water.

This year, I’d like to challenge you to do something different. It’s been a slightly different year already: we actually experienced a winter (all Native Texans can appreciate that!!) AND it was a wonderful spring—again, that’s amazing since we usually go from winter straight to summer!  We didn’t have a 100-degree day until this last week and really haven’t needed to use the irrigation system until June.

In honor of Smart Irrigation Month, I’m going to ask you to something different by investing in your irrigation system and upgrade where necessary.  Don’t just turn it on and forget it all summer.  I want to focus on sprinkler heads and water pressure. The type of sprinkler head being used determines several things, like how long to water, where to locate the heads, and also how much water is being emitted and, most importantly, how well that water is being used by your landscape.

There are two main types of sprinkler heads—spray heads and rotor (or rotary) heads. Both are usually buried underground and pop-up when watering. Spray heads spray water the same piece of grass, or landscaping, the entire time they are popped up. Rotor heads turn to the left, right, or in a circle, when they pop-up and do not water the same place the entire time they are popped up.  They can have one large stream of water spraying out or smaller streams of water spraying.  With either pattern, they turn, versus being stationary. See the pictures on the right for what each look like.

Rotor heads are the more efficient of the two head types. Tests have shown that the water is distributed more evenly by rotor heads than spray heads. The same amount of water is being emitted close to the head as midway as at the furthest end of the water. Usually people want to replace rotors with sprays, but I urge them not to. Again, they are more efficient than traditional spray heads. Rotor heads are desirable to use in large areas—fewer heads are required to cover a large space since they spray water out a further distance than spray heads.

Traditional spray heads are not quite as efficient, mainly due to variations in water pressure and head spacing (specifically heads placed too far apart). Misting is commonly seen with spray heads—this is lots of “clouding” coming off the heads. This cloud, or misting, is water drops that are so small they are just floating away into the air, rather than going down onto the landscape. You are paying for this water and it’s just floating away. Not good. This means you have to run the system for a longer time to get water down onto the ground, which will get expensive and is just wasteful. This is caused by water pressure that is too high.

An aside here, “good” or appropriate water pressure for irrigation systems is between 35-60 psi.

High pressure can be remedied in two main ways: installing a pressure reducing valve (PRV) on the irrigation system, or replacing the nozzles with ones that adjust or compensate for the high water pressure. So…which is better? That’s a hard question to give a quick answer for.

The PRV is a good fix if the entire irrigation system is running with high pressure. It’s one device that is installed near the backflow prevention device in your yard. A licensed irrigator should be contacted to install this device.

Replacing nozzles is a great way to fine-tune the irrigation system; here, you can just replace nozzles in the zones that have the high misting. This is a little more time consuming because you need to find and purchase the correct nozzle types (full circle, half circle, etc) and then physically unscrew the old nozzles and screw on the new ones, but overall it’s pretty inexpensive. Of course, a licensed irrigator can be hired to do this work as well. There are several brands of nozzles that have built-in pressure compensation and can be ordered online or found in local irrigation stores.

Both types of pressure reducing qualify for the City’s Efficient Irrigation Rebate program. I highly encourage you to take advantage of it if you notice misting in your irrigation system!

#TXWindmills and #TXWatertowers

Reuse Elevated Water Tower

You may be asking what does windmills and water towers have to do with the usual topic of water conservation that we share here?  Well, nothing directly; however for this blog I want to share a fun campaign that the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is running this month.  To put it very simply, the TWDB is the State Agency that oversees all surface water rights in the State and tries to ensure that we will have enough water for the future of all Texans.

The TWDB, Texas Historical Commission (THC), and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) are once again taking a summer road trip—and everyone is invited.  We’ll be on the lookout for two iconic and important Texas water symbols that help define the story of Texas water: windmills and water towers. Windmills helped populate our great state by making water available in areas not supported by rivers and springs, and they remind us that the water beneath our feet continues to sustain vast swaths of the state and will continue to do so in the future.

Join the Board by posting your own photos of #TXwindmills and #TXwatertowers to Instagram.  We’ll be sharing photos and information throughout the month of July and featuring submitted photos, too.

Where will our virtual road trip take us? All over Texas, we hope! Participate for the chance to win cool souvenirs (aka prizes); we’ll be holding a random drawing at the end of the campaign.

To participate:
1. Follow @txwaterdevboard, @txhistcomm, and @texasparkswildlife on Instagram
2. Post your photos of #TXwindmills and #TXwatertowers (make sure your profile is public!)
3. Mention the location and tag us

The virtual tour will run from July 1 to July 31, 2018.  A total of five participants will be selected at random by the TWDB, THC, and TPWD after the campaign ends to receive a swag bag. Prizes may include TWDB, THC, and TPWD swag and/or other items determined by the host organizations. Winners will be notified and announced the week of August 1 via Instagram. More information is available at www.twdb.texas.gov/newsmedia/promotion/index.asp.

Happy Traveling and seeing those wonderful water features!

 

Focused on the road ahead

Note: Success doesn’t happen by accident. For the City of Round Rock, it’s been a decades-long process of strategic planning and methodical execution. The Future Forward series highlights our efforts to manage Round Rock’s rapid growth. 


It should surprise absolutely no one who’s lived here more than 5 minutes the issue most vexing to Round Rock residents is traffic. We get it. We drive in it every day, too.  

The problem, in a nutshell, is too many vehicles for not enough lanes of pavement. Duh, right? So how do you solve that problem? Simple: Create new connections and expand the road network. Duh, again. (And, yes, there are solutions other than laying down more asphalt, like transit and such. Patience, dear reader.) 

Of course, the create-new-connections and expand-the-roadway-network solution is complicated by the fact that we have an interstate highway and major state roads running through the community over which we have limited to no control. 

And then there’s paying for those new connections and roadway expansions. That’s not complicated, it’s just expensive.  

Back to complicated: Where do those connections/expansions need to be added, and when? 

Those questions are answered the Transportation Master Plan approved by the City Council in October 2017.  The Master Plan’s vision is to improve all forms of connectivity, including roads and public transportation, through planning and policy choices, partnerships, dedicated funding and targeted construction so that quality of life, economic opportunity and public safety are enhanced. 

Easier said than done, of course. The plan’s price tag is $1.2 billion. That’s a huge number but bear in mind that gets us to Round Rock’s ultimate build-out, when our population will be 250,000. To put that number into perspective: Since Round Rock’s half-cent sales tax for transportation went into effect in 1998, more than $533 million worth of projects have been completed. Of that, $203 million in funding came from the half-cent sales tax. The City used the sales tax revenue to leverage county, state and federal funds, as well as tapped private development contributions, to get to the total. (More perspective: Round Rock’s population was 61,212 in 1998.) So $1.2 billion is doable, over the long haul.  

Back to the question of precisely where the new roads need to go and when to build them. The Master Plan features a list of projects, ranked from 1 to 55, that are also segmented into short-term (2017-2020), mid-term (2020-2030) and long-term (2030-2040). The rankings are prioritized by the following measures: Safety and mobility (45%), connectivity (25%), environment (15%) and cost (15%). 

Work is currently under way on 8 of the top ten projects. Why not all 10? That brings us back to limited resources. We only have so much funding at the present time. There’s $53 million allocated in the City’s current budget for all things transportation. That total includes a mix of General Fund revenue, Type B revenue (that’s the sales tax we referenced two paragraphs ago) and our General Self Financed Construction Fund, which is fueled by excess General Fund revenues or unspent General Fund budget.  

The City has also submitted nearly $40 million in grant applications to CAMPO earlier this year for transportation funding.   

The Master Plan calls for finding new, sustainable sources of funding. A new method the City is considering is Roadway Impact Fees on new development. Roadway Impact Fees are one-time costs assessed to developers in order to improve roadway capacity. Public input is scheduled to occur this summer, and a draft ordinance is expected to be presented to City Council this fall. 

The City Council has had early discussions about a possible bond election for road projects, something it is likely to discuss in more detail at its budget retreat on July 12.  

Yes, dear and patient reader, we are also working on public transportation solutions. You can learn more about current transit services here, which grew from the Transit Master Plan we completed in 2015.  

We didn’t even get into other transportation options, like hike and bike trails, but we’ve got a plan for those as well, along with $21.6 million in bond funds targeted for four trail projects that will make staying off those frustrating roads a lot easier. 

Throw all those plans and options together, and you can see Round Rock is built for less stop and more go. 

City grants request for temporary change in construction work hours

The construction firm for the Kalahari Resort project requested a temporary change in construction work hours. The request is to allow construction to begin one hour earlier, beginning at 6 a.m., from June 25, 2018, through Nov. 4, 2018, seven days a week. City staff has granted this request with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays, which will remain 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during this timeframe.

The request stems from the construction firm’s goal to increase worker safety and construction quality throughout the concrete foundation/pier work. The earlier start time will afford the craftsmen the opportunity to work less during peak temperatures to help decrease the risk of heat-related illnesses, as well as ensure adequate concrete curing. This is not atypical, and the City has received and granted these types of requests in the past as it relates to concrete work.

In addition, the City expects to receive future requests for temporary construction hour adjustments for this project. Future requests will likely be related to concrete pours and the associated ideal curing temperatures. Both extreme heat and cold can cause issues with concrete curing. Before granting such a request, City staff will take into account these practical construction issues as well as strive to reduce the duration of any noise disturbance to the surrounding neighborhoods. This is the largest project under construction in the City in many years and an enormous amount of concrete is necessary to build it.  As such, off-hour concrete pours are typically a necessary component of a large construction project.

We will keep the public abreast of any changes to the work hours for this project as that information becomes available.

We thank the public in advance for your patience and understanding during the construction phase of this project.

Top 10 (plus three) things to do this summer in Round Rock

Special thanks to Round Rock ISD extern Caitlin Osborne for contributing this blog post!

Whether the forecast calls for high temps or rainy days, we have you covered with the top ten (plus three!) things to do this summer in Round Rock.

  1. Walk along Brushy Creek’s shaded path in Memorial Park and follow the trail to view our famous rock.
  2. Join in on free, fun activities and reading challenges for all ages with Round Rock Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, or learn a new skill by attending a class or workshop.
  3. Listen to live music on Round Rock’s first downtown rooftop lounge at Urban.
  4. Watch nearly a half-million Mexican free-tailed bats take flight at dusk from the McNeil bridge along I-35. Free parking in the NAPA Auto Parts parking lot, 601 S. I-35.
  5. Bring the kids to the Play for All Park to experience the newest features, including all-new playground equipment, a zip line and a “speedway” for bikes and scooters.
  6. Encounter Shakespeare under the stars during the final week of Summer Theater in the Park.
  7. Splash around in one of Rock’N River Water Park’s newest attractions. Twilight admission is half off from 5 to 7 p.m.
  8. Take yourself out to the ballgame and watch Round Rock’s favorite home team, the Express. Don’t miss upcoming promotions such as Stranger Things Night, Friday Fireworks and Superhero Night.
  9. Experience Latin vibes with free salsa classes at Rockey’s Piano Bar, every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. through July 30.
  10. Adults age 50 and over can explore various locations within a three-hour radius by taking a day trip with the Allen R. Baca Center.
  11. Get your om on in Downtown Round Rock with a free, beginner-friendly yoga class presented by The Yoga Room. Dates are Aug. 11 and Sept. 8.
  12. While you’re on Main Street, cool off and splash around in the Prete Plaza Fountain.
  13. Compete in a co-ed kickball league. Learn more about leagues for all ages at roundrockrecreation.com.

Our water runs deep

Note: Success doesn’t happen by accident. For the City of Round Rock, it’s been a decades-long process of strategic planning and methodical execution. The Future Forward series highlights our efforts to manage Round Rock’s rapid growth. 


“No water, no life. No blue, no green.”
– Sylvia Earle, marine biologist 

Hard to state it any more simply than that. Water may very well be the most important service provided by the City of Round Rock.  

So we take it seriously, and have for the past 40 years. That’s why the City is so well positioned today to have enough water when Round Rock reaches its projected ultimate population of 250,000. That’s decades away, but when you’re talking about planning a water utility, that’s the kind of time horizon you look at. 

That doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t worry about conserving water. By all means, take advantage of the City’s many conservation programs and educate yourself on how you can lower your bills by watering wisely. 

But one of the key elements in Round Rock’s ability to manage its inexorable growth is a forward-thinking utility that delivers reliable, affordable water.  

Long story short, Round Rock pretty much ran out of water in 1978. The combination of a prolonged drought, sole reliance on the Edwards Aquifer and rapid residential development meant folks went without water for a short period of time. City leaders vowed then to never put the community in that kind of situation again, and that led to the development of the strong, stable water utility we have today. 

How strong? The last round of debt issued by the utility, in December 2017, earned an AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s, the highest possible. Round Rock is the only Central Texas city with this rating for its utility.  

That rating was the culmination of four decades of hard work. After the wells went dry in ’78, the City contracted with the Brazos River Authority (BRA) to purchase water from Lake Georgetown. The City built a plant on the north end of town to treat that water. As growth continued, the City acquired future water supplies from the BRA, and ultimately partnered with other utilities to build a 28-mile pipeline to Lake Stillhouse Hollow near Belton.  

The forward thinking continued in 2006, when Round Rock partnered with Cedar Park and Leander to create the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority to treat and deliver water from Lake Travis. (There was no more future water to be acquired from the BRA.) Phase 1 of the regional project was completed in 2012, and Cedar Park and Leander have been utilizing the system for their customers since then. Round Rock isn’t expected to need Lake Travis water until 2020. 

So the water is there, and the infrastructure is in place, when we do need it. And will continue to be, even when our population more than doubles. That’s what Future Forward is all about.

Kalahari puts on a Texas-sized groundbreaking

We’ve been to dozens of groundbreakings in Round Rock over the years, but none like the one for Kalahari Resorts last week. The big tents, the amazing food, the large video backdrop on the stage and the laid-back delivery of owner Todd Nelson showcased Kalahari’s one-of-a-kind hospitality expertise.

The size, the scale and the nature of business were on display for the 250 or so invited guests who watched the ceremonial dirt turning on the $550-million, 1.4-million-square-foot  project. We’re projecting Kalahari will generate a net $4.7 million in new tax revenue to the City and create at least 700 new jobs.

The groundbreaking highlighted the fact we’ve never had a business like this in Round Rock before. Sure, we’ve got a couple dozen terrific hotels and motels, but not a full-blown resort and convention center that will feature the world’s largest indoor water park.

Let that sink in. There will be no indoor water park on the planet larger than the one now under construction in Round Rock. Nelson said it will be the sixth time Kalahari has built the world’s largest indoor water park.

Nelson also showed images from Kalahari’s other convention centers. He also announced that as part of the groundbreaking, Kalahari was signing three contracts for the 200,000-square-foot Round Rock convention center, one of which booked 14,000 room nights over six years.

So we’re officially in the convention business, in a big way. The convention center will greatly expand our tourism efforts, beyond the already successful Sports Capital of Texas program.

And then there’s the fun stuff. Nelson described and showed images of what’s in store at Tom Foolery’s – an 80,000-square-foot indoor adventure park that will include thrill rides, ropes course, climbing walls, an indoor zip line, bowling, laser tag and mini golf.

Kalahari provides fun for the entire family, from seniors to toddlers, Nelson said. The family experience is a big element of what they’re selling, and that’s how their other resorts each draw an estimated 1 million visitors a year.

Those guests will work up an appetite at the amazing array of amenities beyond the aforementioned 223,000-square-foot water park and indoor play spaces.

The groundbreaking featured food from the themed restaurants Kalahari will offer in Round Rock – the Double Cut Charcoal Grill, Kalahari’s signature steakhouse experience, Mondo Sortino’s, which includes an Italian kitchen, pizzeria and gelato shop, and 5 Niño’s Tex Mex restaurant. Guests noshed in the shade under huge white tents at what felt more like a wedding reception in the Hamptons. (It should be noted here that Kalahari picked up the tab for this event.)

For people looking for a little pampering, there will be the Spa Kalahari and Salon. Alas, no pedicures or massages were made available at the ground breaking.

The great news for local folks is that all the amenities and restaurants will be open for people who aren’t staying at the hotel.

“When we design our resorts, we stay focused on adding amenities that everyone can experience and enjoy – not only our overnight guests,” Nelson said.

We got a taste of it all at the groundbreaking. We’re looking forward to the grand opening in late 2020 when everyone can savor all Kalahari has to offer.

Mayor: City’s history of economic development success continues with Kalahari 

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


What does the word “growth” bring to mind for you? If comments on the City of Round Rock’s social media pages and citizen surveys are any indication, your answer is probably traffic. 

You would be hard-pressed to find a city in our area that is not experiencing some level of growth. From July 2016 to July 2017, Austin-Round Rock was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the state, adding 55,269 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  

If we choose to sit back and hope that inevitable expansion will not occur, we risk making the exact things we fear about growth a reality. Through wise planning, we can ensure our growth serves the public by improving quality of life, creating new jobs and maintaining our City’s financial health so we can afford to carry out our strategic plans. We also look for ways to mitigate the potential negative impacts, such as traffic, that new development can create. 

The question we find ourselves asking is this: How can we make growth less burdensome on residents? How do we ensure that development has the least amount of impact possible on our daily commutes and creates a true economic benefit to our residents? 

These questions came to mind as we considered the future of a 351-acre tract of land along U.S. 79 across from the Dell Diamond and Old Settlers Park – the future site of Kalahari Resorts and Convention Center, which breaks ground May 15. The developers plan to employ a minimum of 700 people and invest $550 million in the project, which includes a 975-room resort, 200,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor water park and a more than 150,000-square-foot convention center.

There were two possible development scenarios for this piece of land, with the first being single-family residential. If that entire tract of land was developed as housing, it could have resulted in the construction of up to 1,404 homes. That means 1,404 families with commutes between home and work in the morning and evening, adding to congestion on U.S. 79. 

Another option was to follow the pre-existing zoning of the land. This would allow for a 15-story hotel, 50,000 square feet of retail, 350,000 square feet of offices, a 47-acre business park development, 400 townhome units, 8 acres of retail development, in addition to light industrial development with buildings up to five stories tall. Although this was the better of the two scenarios, it still created additional traffic concerns around the 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. rush hours along U.S. 79. 

With these two options on the table, Kalahari’s interest in the land was a game changer. The traffic to this resort destination will not peak at a particular time of day, unlike mixed-use developments and residential neighborhoods that draw residents and employees to and from during rush hour. 

Additionally, we knew the project would bring significant convention and hotel space to our community and help diversify our economy, not to mention the potential of creating a new revenue stream to provide essential City services while demanding fewer of those services. 

In the first 10 years, the development is expected to bring a net revenue of $4.7 million to the City’s budget per year. To put into perspective just how meaningful that is, consider this: to raise $5 million in property taxes from residents would require a 10 percent increase in the tax rate, meaning we are essentially able to maintain and improve our services at a discount to homeowners. Kalahari’s $350 million investment in the project will create significant property tax revenue to the City, Williamson County and Round Rock ISD. This is the largest impact a single project has ever had on the City’s property tax base. Thanks to the efforts of State Rep. Larry Gonzales, we are able to utilize a state law to keep State tax revenues, including the hotel occupancy tax, sales tax and mixed beverage tax revenues, generated by the resort in the community to help pay for the project’s public debt and revenue sharing. 

The great part about these agreements is that all incentive payments are being funded by the revenue brought in by the development. 

By planning ahead, the City Council is following in the steps of our predecessors who worked to make Round Rock as successful as it is today. The City has used incentives in the past to attract other highly desirable companies to Round Rock and has a proven track record of providing performance-based incentives to businesses that expand employment opportunities and the tax base. After seeing a surge in commercial and industrial activity in the 80s and early-90s, our City’s forefathers successfully recruited the headquarters of a little company you may have heard of – Dell – from Austin to Round Rock in 1994. That increase in the City’s tax base resulted in a series of public works projects and additional public amenities. 

In 2006, City Council saw the need to diversify our sales tax base and made an economic development agreement with Round Rock Premium Outlets. IKEA opened in 2007, becoming the largest single retail store in Central Texas. Emerson Process Management relocated its international headquarters and technology center to Round Rock in 2012 and Bass Pro Shops opened a 104,0000-square-foot store just north of the Outlets. The Round Rock Chamber is instrumental in retaining and recruiting several other businesses that are helping our community thrive. 

It’s easy to see Dell’s direct economic impact in the form of jobs and contribution to the City’s financial well-being after all these years – it’s why we enjoy one of the lowest property tax rates in the state of Texas. It’s also easy to become overly dependent on its success, which is why we continue to look for new opportunities to grow our economy along with the inevitable population growth. Economic development wins are an important part of Round Rock’s success story, and we are excited to see how these projects continue to benefit our community. 

Mayor: Program marks 5 years of empowering neighborhoods

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


For a generation that has the entire world at our fingertips, we don’t always do a great job of connecting with those around us. Many of us can remember a time when our neighborhoods defined who we were — our friends, the schools we attended and our overall sense of safety and stability.

More recently, you’d be hard-pressed to find communities across the United States where residents even know their neighbors’ names.

At our 2012 City Council retreat, we found ourselves talking about some of the usual topics: water, transportation and economic development. But we constantly returned to the subject of our neighborhoods. As we continued to grow at an exponential rate, how could we ensure that we were not only maintaining — but also improving — Round Rock neighborhoods?

We committed to making neighborhood revitalization and protection a top priority in 2013 by hiring Community Development Administrator Joe Brehm. Known by many in our community as “the Neighborhood Guy,” Joe has implemented innovative ways to connect with neighborhood association leaders, church leaders and volunteer groups to help maintain property value, enhance curb appeal and maintain a sense of community in our neighborhoods.

Joe’s office, which also includes our Neighborhood Services Coordinator Katy Price, provides a one-stop shop for all residents to inquire about quality-of-life issues in their neighborhood while maintaining a 24-hour response rate to residents’ emails and calls. These two work daily to explain the “why” and “how” behind our decisions and work together to affect positive results for the community.

This simple mindset has established a foundation of reciprocity and openness with our residents in a time when government distrust is high. One neighborhood leader came to our most recent City Council meeting to thank our staff simply for being responsive and available to our residents, saying that “the ability to answer emails and phone calls has been lost in today’s society.”

Joe and Katy also coordinate essential program services like the neighborhood cleanup program, the Tool Lending Center, our curb painting kit, and, most recently, UniverCity — our citizen education and leadership program.

The Tool Lending Center is deployed to organized projects such as neighborhood cleanups, and was the first of its kind in Texas. Housed in a 22-foot by 8-foot trailer, the center includes shovels, wheelbarrows and minor home repair tools that residents can borrow at no cost. Home Depot donated $6,250 worth of tools toward the project.

Eight other cities — including four outside of Texas — have already reached out to us with interest to replicate the program. We are currently looking into ways that residents can check out the equipment outside of organized clean-ups in the future.

In April 2014, the Tool Lending Center made its first deployment at a downtown Round Rock neighborhood clean-up. Since then, the trailer and neighborhood clean-up program have become an integral part of city services by providing an additional means to help residents outside of weekly trash pick-up and routine home maintenance. The program has checked out 3,067 tools and engaged volunteers in our community 4,135 times since its inception.

Over time, we have found that some of our city population most in need did not have the means or the tools to upkeep their properties. Due to age, recent illness or surgery, some don’t have the resources that would empower them to take an active role in our community. This is where our local volunteers come into play.

The city combined forces with the Austin Bridge Builders Alliance to create Love the Rock in 2014. This fantastic nonprofit helped us coordinate a single day of service in Round Rock with 40 churches and 1,200 volunteers, 300 of whom focused solely on neighborhood cleanups. The program was a hit, and the 300 who participated with the cleanup reported the highest level of satisfaction in the work they performed in our community.

In 2016, all 1,200 volunteers participated in a neighborhood cleanup in 20 different neighborhoods. Together, they touched and improved more than 200 homes — many of which had active code enforcement tickets open at the time of the event. These amazing volunteers removed 555 tons of bulk trash and 98 tons of brush in just one day.

This program is doing more than just enhancing curb appeal and creating compliance with codes — it is strengthening the fabric of our neighborhoods. Since the creation of our Neighborhood Services program, six neighborhoods have voted to form their own associations.

This program does not include handouts from the city. Rather, it empowers residents and volunteers to connect and take active leadership in building up their own neighborhoods.

To our volunteers from the many churches and organizations across our area, I want to thank you for lifting us up and helping us to take direct action in addressing the concerns of our city. Your efforts truly make our community a more united and better place to live.

You would be hard-pressed to find another program that has such a huge return on the funding it receives. Some of the returns can be measured in tons or volunteer hours — others are in the smiles or the tears of those who regain their dignity and are empowered by this program.

We are building communities here in Round Rock, and I can’t wait to see how this program continues to grow and transform our city.

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