Be ready, Round Rock: How to stay informed when weather turns severe

Most Central Texans know firsthand how unpredictable our weather can be, but this week, the forecast will be dependably…soggy.

What could be more unpredictable is the severity of this week’s weather. Round Rock is currently in peak severe thunderstorm and tornado season, which usually lasts from March to June. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

Sign up for alerts

Most people have received automatic messages about flash flooding accompanied by a loud ringer or vibration on their phone — these are notifications through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, which automatically pushes weather alerts from the National Weather Service directly to your phone through a location-based technology. No opt-in is required for these important messages.

Residents can also sign up for Warn Central Texas, a regional notification system to alert the public to emergency situations. Users can choose what types of alerts they want to receive and how they want to receive the alerts, such as text message, phone call and/or email. Alerts are sent based off locations you register on your account, so you can add your home and work locations. To register, visit warncentraltexas.org.

Watches vs. warnings

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues watches and warnings for possible severe weather as appropriate, but do you know the difference?

Severe Thunderstorm Watch: 
Be prepared! Severe thunderstorms are possible in and near the watch area. Stay informed and be ready to act if a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.  Watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center for areas where severe weather may occur.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning:
Take action!  A severe thunderstorm has been indicated by radar or reported by a spotter producing hail one inch or larger in diameter and/or winds exceeding 58 mph. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Take shelter in a substantial building. Severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes with little or no advance warning.

Tornado Watch:
Be prepared! Stay aware. A tornado is possible within the watch area.

Tornado Warning:
Take action! A tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar. There is a danger to life and property.  Get to a safe place away from windows, on the lowest floor, in an interior room. Do not stay under an overpass in your vehicle! Being in a vehicle or mobile home is not safe during tornadoes. 

Mayor: National Small Business Week reminds us to shop locally

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

The last year has been tough for many of us, and our small businesses in Round Rock are no exception.

This week is National Small Business Week, and it’s a great time to reflect on the contributions of our entrepreneurs and small business owners. We must also remember the importance of shopping locally and supporting the businesses that make our community unique.

Round Rock is a place where entrepreneurs and small businesses are welcomed and supported, and it’s up to all of us to give them the encouragement they need to grow and expand in our community.

Operated by our friends, neighbors or even family, our local businesses make up the fabric of our community. Here in Williamson County, small to small-medium sized businesses account for nearly 99 percent of establishments, and it is estimated that in Round Rock alone we have more than 4,000 businesses with less than 100 employees.

Our small businesses not only provide jobs for residents, they also give back to our community at large. I’m fortunate to know many small businesses who are active in sponsoring and supporting community sport teams and events, our schools and non-profits. Many of our local leaders either own or work for small businesses.

In addition to the vital role our local businesses serve in Round Rock’s economy, they also benefit our quality of life in many concrete ways.

For every $100 in purchases by visitors, residents and businesses, the City of Round Rock collects $2 in sales tax revenues. Here’s the breakdown of how those revenues are used: the General Fund, which pays for public safety, parks, library and other basic City services, gets $1, while 50 cents goes to property tax reduction and the remaining 50 cents goes to the Type B Fund to pay for roads and economic development. Since approved by voters in 1997, that Type B half-cent has generated $600 million worth of transportation improvements. 

The 50 cents earmarked for property tax reduction reduced the property tax rate for our current budget year by 14.4 cents, saving the median homeowner $31 per month, or 25 percent, on their monthly tax bill. When your friends visit you in Round Rock and shop locally, you can thank them for saving you money on your tax bill.

For these reasons and more, we must continue to provide a nurturing entrepreneurial environment for those willing to take the risk of business ownership. We appreciate our partners at the Round Rock Chamber who remain committed to growing a thriving ecosystem that supports high-growth entrepreneurs and start-up businesses in Round Rock. The Chamber is also working diligently to support entrepreneurship in Round Rock and to be a resource for programs and information to the entrepreneurship community. I encourage you to visit the Chamber’s website at roundrockchamber.org for resources, events and more information about small businesses support in Round Rock.

From the places we take visitors when they come to town to the restaurants we choose to frequent with our families, our local businesses make a mark on our lives. To all of the small businesses, founders and business owners in Round Rock, we thank you for your valuable contribution to our thriving economy and look forward to continuing to support you.

Results Count: Strategic planning pays off with satisfied residents 

Success in community-building requires playing the long game, especially in a fast-growing city like Round Rock. Building infrastructure, developing superior programs for public safety and leisure all the while maintaining fiscal discipline necessitates having a plan and sticking to it. 

That’s been Round Rock’s modus operandi for the past three decades. Plan for growth, figure out how to pay for it and then execute consistently is how you get the kind of outstanding results the City received in its most recent citizen survey.  

We thought it would be enlightening to juxtapose the survey results with the City Council’s recently updated Strategic Plan goals for 2025. The results show the value to residents of staying the course, even in the midst of a pandemic.  

Caution: Lots of statistics ahead. A work of great literature this is not. It’s an itemization of what can happen through the power of visioning and goal setting in local government. It’s also worth noting how much better Round Rock does than its peer cities statewide and nationally. Again, we chalk that up to having a plan and sticking to it. 

 

The top-priority for City Council shouldn’t come as a surprise: Deliver outstanding services at a reasonable cost while growing the local economy. 

Objectives for this goal include: deliver cost-effective services in a customer friendly, pro-business manner; diversify revenues, expand the tax base and maintain solid finances; and develop, update and use long-range organization and strategic master planning. 

In providing high value services, police and fire are incredibly important to deliver results  public safety  makes up  50 percent of  the  City’s  general fund.  We have a reputation of being one of the safest cities of the nation, and our survey responses show we’re living up to that standard. 

Survey says 

  • 91% feel very safe or safe overall in Round Rock 
  • 87% approval with overall quality of City serviceswhich is 41% above Texas average, 39% above U.S. average 
  • 54% satisfaction with overall value received for taxes, fees 24% higher than Texas average, 17% above U.S. average 
  • 71% satisfaction with customer service provided by City employees 31% higher than Texas average, 29% above U.S. average 
  • Satisfaction with Fire and EMS services are at 89% and 82%, respectively 
  • 83% satisfaction with Police services – 20% higher than Texas average, 14% above U.S. average 

Bottom line 

Some objectives in this overarching goal are not reflected in the survey results, notably economic indicators and financial stability. To wit: The City’s economic development partnership with the Round Rock Chamber resulted in 1,115 jobs and $46 million in capital investment in 2020; and commercial property values have increased $1.05 billion over the past two years, which takes some pressure off residential property taxpayers. 

The strongest endorsement of the City’s finances are AAA bond ratings – the highest possible – from Standard & Poor’s for general obligation and utility debt. 


The master planning objective for Goal 1 pays off big time for Goal 2.
Round Rock has the plans in place to keep up with the infrastructure demands of a growing population, as well as the fiscal discipline to make sure there’s enough money to maintain what’s already on the ground. 

Objectives include: improving mobility; upgrade and expand roads; have responsible potable water use by City customers, facilities and parks; and invest in City infrastructure to support growth and economic development. 

Survey says 

  • 82% satisfaction with drinking water services, which is 31% higher than Texas average and 18% higher than U.S. average 
  • 72% satisfaction with maintenance of major City streets, which is 26% higher than Texas average and 26% higher than U.S. average 

Significant satisfaction increases from 2018 to 2020 include: 

  • Traffic flow in and around neighborhoods (+18% – the highest increase of any service from 2018-2020) 
  • Timing of traffic signals in the City (+10%) 
  • Overall management of traffic flow by the City (+10%) 
  • Transportation planning (+7%) 
  • Maintenance of major City streets (+7%)  
  • Maintenance of neighborhood streets (+7%) 

Hittin’ the streets 

Keeping up with street maintenance has been a City Council priority for a number of years, and is an expensive program since 2012, the City has spent more than $37 million to maintain neighborhood streets. 

Slight property tax increases were approved in 2019 and the current budget to keep the program fully funded, so seeing such high satisfaction rates is encouraging. Likewise, the City Council has so far approved $60 million in debt over the past two years for the Driving Progress transportation improvement program, which in 2019 took the first step on a $240 million, five-year investment 

The high rating for drinking water services is no surprise it is typically around 80%. Round Rockers likely have a renewed appreciation for our utility as City crews kept water flowing during the recent winter storm, when nearly all our neighboring utility providers had to issue boil water notices. 


Expanding our economy through sports tourism has been a City Council priority for
more than a decade. Folks come to town to compete, stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants, and leave their money here when they had back home.  

Funding to build the facilities needed to host major sporting events comes primarily from the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT), which is paid by visitors to local hotels. The good news is, those facilities can also be reserved for use by local sports organizations. 

Objectives for this goal include: develop/maintain additional sports fields – practice, games, sports tourism; upgrade quality and maintenance of current City sports facilities; and expand conventions/conferences. 

Survey says  

  • Satisfaction with quality of outdoor sports facilities is 72%, which is 13% above Texas average and 8% above U.S. average 
  • Satisfaction with City-owned Forest Creek Golf Course increased by 15% from 2018 to 2020 
  • Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, which just opened in October, was the No. 2 ranked favorite development in the City over the past five years 

In to win 

Having top-notch athletic facilities is a big reason why Round Rock calls itself the Sports Capital of Texas. One of those facilities, Forest Creek Golf Club, received a $5.1 million renovation that was completed in 2018 following a 10-month closure. So the double-digit increase in satisfaction was, well, satisfying. 

The ranking of Kalahari as the No. 2 favorite development over the past five years was a welcome surprise since it had been open only one month before the survey hit the street. Needless to say, adding a resort with nearly 1,000 rooms and a Convention Center radically expands the City’s ability to host conferences and out-of-town visitors and expands our tourism program beyond sports 


Like Goal 1, this one is
pretty broad but is focused on quality of life. Objectives include: build a community where people prefer to live; develop/upgrade parks and trails; expand and diversify local business and job opportunities for residents; expand/maintain quality of life amenities for residents. 

Survey says 

  • 88% approval with overall quality of life 
  • 84% satisfaction with Parks and Recreation programs, which is 27% higher than Texas average and 23% higher than U.S., and second highest among City services 
  • 81% satisfaction with overall appearance of community, which is 22% above Texas average and 17% above U.S. average 
  • 77% satisfaction with cleanliness of streets and sidewalks, which is 15% above Texas average and 18% above U.S. average 

Significant satisfaction increases from 2018 to 2020 include: 

  • City recreation centers (+10%) 
  • Availability of job opportunities (+9%) 
  • Hike and bike trails in the City (+8%) 
  • Adult recreation programs (+7%) 

Other building blocks 

Our Comprehensive Plan 2030 process identified concerns and satisfaction when it comes to development. You can check out the full array of public engagement results on the Comprehensive Plan here 


The City has invested
tens of million of dollars over the last decade in buildings, infrastructure and enhancing the streetscape in downtown. The redevelopment of our one-of-a-kind historic district is paying off with new commercial projects and increased dining and entertainment opportunities.  

Goal objectives include: more attractive, aesthetically-pleasing downtown; increase public and commercial use of Brushy Creek; expand housing opportunities: townhomes, apartments, condos; and provide safe, convenient, lighted parking. 

Survey says 

  • 90% say they feel very safe or safe in Downtown Round Rock 
  • Downtown was the No. 1 response for favorite development in the City over the past five years, cited by 30% of respondents 

Comments from survey 

  • Downtown is “growing and becoming more of an area where you can walk around and feel safe. More places to eat and different types of shops/places. Love the water splash pad in summer and hope there will be outside concerts again. Really missed this last summer.” 
  • “Good food, good people, good atmosphere” 
  • “I like how the downtown area near the library and Main St. has adapted and planned for growth. Widening the sidewalks and planning for additional foot traffic while reminding visitors of the parking garage has allowed downtown to be visually appealing.” 
  • “A city’s main street should be its showcase. RR did a good job of renovating sidewalks and landscaping” 

Right. At Home. 

There’s a lot going on in Downtown that won’t show up in the survey. For example, The Depot townhome project is one step away from starting construction. Significant progress is being made on extending the regional trail along Brushy Creek, which will give pedestrians and cyclists from both west and east Round Rock an alternative means to get to downtown. A 300-space parking garage will be built with the new Library on Liberty Street. The opening of parklets in downtown has been well-received by visitors and businesses. 


The
backbone of our community is the many neighborhoods that make up Round Rock. Each has its own character and challenges, and there’s A LOT the City does to keep our neighborhoods healthy.  

Objectives include: maintain reputation as a safe city; ensure homes and commercial areas complying with City codes; increase neighborhood connectivity through streets and trails; repair, upgrade neighborhood infrastructure: streets, sidewalks, utilities, fences, streetscapes; and upgrade neighborhood parks and open spaces. 

Survey says 

  • 95% feel very safe or safe in their neighborhood during the day, and 83% at night 
  • 88% satisfaction with appearance, maintenance of City parks 
  • 72% satisfaction with maintenance of neighborhood streets, which is 28% higher than Texas average and 27% higher than U.S. average 
  • 67% satisfaction with maintenance of city streets and sidewalks, which is 31% higher than Texas average and 25% higher than U.S. average 
  • 55% satisfaction with enforcement of city codes and ordinances, which is 7% higher than Texas average and 2% higher than U.S. average 
  • 51% satisfaction with clean-up of junk/debris on private property, which is 8% higher than Texas average and 9% higher than U.S. average 
  • 50% satisfaction with enforcing mowing/trimming on private property, which is 12% higher than Texas average and 14% higher than U.S. average 

Significant satisfaction increases from 2018 to 2020 include: 

  • Traffic flow in and around neighborhoods (+18%) 
  • Maintenance of neighborhood streets (+7%) 

Howdy, neighbor 

This goal has the most connections to survey results. The one objective that doesn’t line up is increasing effectiveness of HOAs, which the City addresses through its Neighborhood Services Division 

Whew. That’s a lot of data to assimilate. If you’ve made it this far, we trust the trip was worth it. Share your thoughts or questions in the comment box below. We’d love to hear from you. 

Mayor: Survey results show progress made through planning

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and we take great pride in Round Rock whenever we receive an accolade for a job well done. We often find our way onto lists for the “best place to move to,” and our city employees are regularly recognized by their colleagues across the state and nation for their excellence. But it’s important for us to tune into our own residents’ perception of whether we are meeting their expectations for service.

Every two years, the city conducts a survey of its residents to see how well the city government is meeting their needs and to determine the issues of concern to them. ETC Institute conducts the survey by mail and online to a random sample of 550 residents.

Our most recent survey, completed at the end of 2020 and presented to the City Council last month, found that nearly 90% of respondents were satisfied with the overall quality of life in Round Rock. When asking specifically about city services, the survey showed 87% of residents were satisfied versus 1% who were dissatisfied. These results are more meaningful to me than any article or award, and I’m so proud of the work our city employees do.

From drinking water to parks maintenance and trash collection services, Round Rock rated at or above the average for cities across the United States in 48 of the 50 areas that were assessed in the survey. Round Rock rated “significantly higher” than the U.S. average (5% or more above) in 41 of these areas.

The survey also indicates areas where we know there is still work to be done: When asked what are the three biggest issues facing Round Rock over the next five years, the top responses were traffic, cited by 88% of respondents; controlling rapid growth, cited by 61%; and property taxes, cited by 53%.

Based on the survey responses, our formula for success is working: we set our city’s overall strategic plan, and our employees address the problems our residents say are most important to them. Each year, the City Council hosts a two-day retreat that allows us time to update and reprioritize this strategic plan, the foundation for all long-term city initiatives. Our strategic goals in recent years have focused on providing high-value services, ensuring we have necessary infrastructure in place, maintaining a great community environment for our residents, promoting tourism, providing an exciting community destination in downtown and sustaining our neighborhoods.

In providing high-value services, police and fire are incredibly important to deliver results as public safety makes up 50% of the city’s general fund. We have a reputation of being one of the safest cities in the nation, and 91% of our residents reported feeling safe or very safe in Round Rock during the day.

We’ve made huge strides in our strategic goal of providing necessary infrastructure to manage our growth, and street maintenance has been an ongoing priority. We saw significant improvement in resident satisfaction with the condition of our streets, with 72% satisfaction with maintenance of major streets. This number is 26% higher than both the Texas and national average. Our Driving Progress transportation project campaign to increase road network capacity and connectivity is also paying dividends; satisfaction with traffic flow in and around neighborhoods increased 18% since our last survey.

Our strategic goal focusing on sports tourism continues to be a benefit for residents. Satisfaction with the quality of outdoor sports facilities in Round Rock is 72%, and satisfaction with the Forest Creek Golf Course increased by an impressive 15% from 2018 to 2020, following the city’s recent $5.1 million renovation of the course.

Our strategic goal aims to make Round Rock a great community to live. In our survey, 88% of residents agree that Round Rock is a great place to call home. We’re proud of our residents and businesses for taking care of our community as well: 81% of residents are satisfied with the appearance of our community, which is 22% above the Texas average and 17% above the national average. Our recent investments in our hike and bike trail network also helped to boost our satisfaction score in this area by 8% over our last survey.

Downtown continues to be an important strategic initiative as we continue to grow. Our redevelopment of this core area was listed as the top response for favorite development in the city over the past five years.  Last but certainly not least, significant resources are allocated to taking care of our neighborhoods. We received 88% satisfaction with the appearance and maintenance of city parks, 72% satisfaction with maintenance of city streets and 95% of residents feel safe in their neighborhood during the day — with 83% at night. These numbers are much higher than the statewide and national average in these areas.

Perhaps one of the most important metrics we ask about in each survey is customer service. At the end of the day, it’s important to us that our residents know how much we care about serving them. Seventy-six percent of residents who had contacted the city during the past year described the service they received as “excellent” or “good,” which was 29% above the national average and 31% above the Texas average.

We will continue to challenge ourselves to increase our level of service to the community and plan our resources in a strategic way that makes a difference in residents’ lives. We appreciate everyone who took the survey and others who give us feedback that help us make our community the great place it is.

To view the complete survey results, visit roundrocktexas.gov/survey.

Halley: Finding sources with high standards more important than ever

Geeta Halley is the Assistant Director of the Round Rock Public Library and writes a column for the Round Rock Leader.


Geeta Halley, Assistant Director of Round Rock Public Library

Last week, I attended an online workshop taught by business librarians at the Library of Congress. It was one of the best learning experiences I have had. Among other things, it renewed my appreciation for the foundational role primary sources play in research.

In the study of history, primary sources are the documents, photographs, recordings and artifacts created by people who are participants or witnesses to historical events. These sources are crucial for developing a better, more accurate understanding of bygone events, cultures and eras.

In our present day, “fake news” and misleading, ideologically-driven reporting is everywhere. As front-line information professionals, librarians witness firsthand how this unfortunate trend transcends political opinion and influences our customers in their research projects. Much could be said of how the internet has fundamentally transformed research over the past 15 years. For all the positive aspects of this transformation, it is troubling to note that education in information literacy – in short, the ability to critically assess a source’s accuracy, authority, reliability and relevance – has not been able to keep pace. To help in this area, librarians seek to provide resources and guidance that help researchers find sources that meet those high standards of quality.

With February being Black History Month, I decided to use an online Round Rock Public Library resource created by ProQuest, a library vendor of research databases. One of its newest offerings is a website called “Black freedom struggle in the United States: Challenges and triumphs in the pursuit of equality.” The website contains approximately 1,600 primary source documents focused on six phases of Black Freedom: the slavery and the Abolitionist movement (1790-1860), the Civil War and the Reconstruction era (1861-1877), the Jim Crow era from 1878 to the Great Depression (1878-1932), the New Deal and World War II (1933-1945), the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements (1946-1975) and the Contemporary Era (1976-2000).

In addition to the Round Rock Public Library’s print and electronic holdings of primary sources, you can also find local history resources through the Portal to Texas History, a gateway to rare, historical and primary source materials from or about Texas. Created and maintained by the University of North Texas Libraries, the portal leverages the power of hundreds of content partners across the state to provide a vibrant, growing collection of resources.

Do you need help finding appropriate, high-quality resources for a research project? Call or visit the library, our librarians are here to help. Do you want to develop better information literacy skills? Again, our librarians can point you to helpful resources.

On another note: in honor of Black History Month, the Round Rock Public Library will celebrate Round Rock families with a month-long exhibit in our gallery area. The exhibit, a collection of photos by Melissa Fontenette-Mitchell, highlights the “contributions of many African-American families to the growth and success of Round Rock.” This year’s theme, selected by the Round Rock Black History Organization, is “Black Family: Faith, Hope and Love, the Backbone of Strength and Survival.”

Mayor Morgan: Governance, not politics, guides city decision-making

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

We have almost hit the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas, and it has certainly been the defining issue of the last year. In the early days, we had to make decisions with little information to best protect the health of our community while keeping Round Rock moving forward.

One of our guiding principles was this — that the City Council would make decisions together as an elected body. Over the past year, Council passed a face covering ordinance, directed federal funding to benefit struggling families through the Round Rock Area Serving Center, and, through our awesome City staff, kept essential City services running like clockwork.

It’s important we not lose our strategic mindset even during a pandemic. Just as City staff have worked to provide essential services, Council continued to hold our regularly scheduled meetings to ensure we didn’t miss a beat. We quickly implemented remote meeting participation and installed plexiglass dividers for councilmembers who choose to attend in person.

There are so many votes we take that, while they don’t always make headlines, have substantial impact on our City’s future. We make decisions that ensure our public safety professionals are well trained and equipped to respond to emergency calls. We approve plans and contracts for parks, roads and utilities to provide the quality of life expected from us. These acts of governance have been a motivating force for me during the pandemic. I enjoy being a part of an elected team of unique perspectives that work together on decisions that will benefit our community for years to come.

Governing feels like a novel concept as we watch politics become the prevailing concern of government. Decisions are often considered “wins” or “losses,” often with little regard for the long-term impacts. This should never be the case on our City Council. According to our City Charter, candidates don’t run with a party affiliation so our focus remains on governance and not politics. Again, governance and not politics. Those may not sound like significantly different terms, but they are.

When we govern, our focus is on serving the community for the benefit of all, guided by vision, goals, and value to the community. Our City Council is charged with continuing Round Rock’s legacy of success, and every decision we make helps create our future. In contrast, politics is focused on ideologies and philosophical principles, on simply getting elected or re-elected.

That said, we do have to make decisions that require ideological discussion, such as ordinances related to smoking in establishments, noise ordinances or face-covering requirements. Council focuses on approaching these decisions with an open, collaborative mindset in an ongoing attempt to avoid making emotional, knee-jerk reactions. We must also, however, ensure these issues don’t cause us to lose our focus on the important work of governance.

City Council just held our annual retreat to update and prioritize our strategic plan. This is a meeting where we intentionally focus on the work of governing by anticipating potential issues and determining our vision and goals as a Council. This year, we discussed staying on track to provide essential services of high-value to taxpayers, provide infrastructure to support coming growth, promote a high-quality of life, maintain our designation as the Sports Capital of Texas, invest in our beloved Downtown and ensure our neighborhoods are places that residents are proud to call home.

Round Rock has seen success through long-term visioning and planning. In the coming years and decades, we must maintain and grow our hard-earned reputation for success. It is our job as City Council to provide a level of stability that ensures we don’t lose our focus on the long-term health of our community while also taking care of immediate needs.

Even as we deal with curveballs thrown at us by COVID-19, you can expect to continue to see the marks of governance on our community. This year will see several road projects come to fruition to improve connectivity and relieve congestion as we continue to grow. Infrastructure investments in our Downtown area will continue, our new public library will make strides toward its completion in 2023. As we gain ground on overcoming the pandemic, our Sports Management and Tourism team stands ready to host national tournaments in a post-COVID-19 world. Our Neighborhood Services and Community Risk Reduction teams will continue efforts to empower and support neighborhoods and residents who need help.

We continue to strive to be an example of government that is effective. The decisions we make — or don’t make — today will matter for generations to come. It is clear the growth in our area is not slowing anytime soon, and it is up to us to focus on governance, not politics, for the benefit of our community.

Mayor Morgan: Sales tax must be addressed by Legislature

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

The 87th session of the Texas Legislature opened last week, setting off months of decision-making in our state’s Capitol.

Although many of the issues discussed will have little bearing on cities across the state, the amount that do are not insignificant. During the 2019 session, more than 300 of the 1,400 bills and resolutions that were signed into law directly impacted local city government in some way. Unfortunately, many of these bills acted to limit the control we have locally to decide what’s right for our own communities — a dangerous trend that municipal leaders have been fighting over the past few years. Texas is a large state with cities that have unique traits and needs, and one-size-all approaches tend to have unintended consequences.

Cities represent the level of government closest to the people. Residents experience the benefits of our services every day, from the delivery of their drinking water, to the roads they drive on and public safety that they can rely on. It’s important we have the ability and flexibility to provide these services in a consistent, quality manner that our residents have come to expect.

One of the most important issues for our community this legislative session will be modifications to local sales and use tax rules. Currently, 2 percent of sales tax on everything sold within Round Rock stays local to better residents’ quality of life and lower their cost of living. However, a new rule could mean that some sales tax revenue generated by Round Rock businesses would benefit the city on the receiving end of the sale.

Dell Technologies is the city of Round Rock’s largest sales tax generator, contributing to our public safety, transportation network, parks, library and more. Dell’s move to Round Rock in the early 1990s was made possible through a Chapter 380 agreement, which is a section of the Local Government Code that authorizes cities to offer incentives to businesses to encourage economic development. Over the first 25 years of the agreement, Round Rock has collected $245 million in municipal sales tax revenues and $123 million through a voter-approved half-cent sales tax that is dedicated solely to property tax relief. In addition, the city’s Type B Economic Development Corporation has collected $120 million to build infrastructure, such as roads, to encourage future economic development.

It’s safe to say that our economic development agreement with Dell has played a huge role in the affordable quality of life we’re able to offer residents.

In February 2020, I spoke in opposition to proposed changes to a sales tax sourcing rule by the Texas comptroller’s office. The rule proposed sending sales tax revenue from internet purchases to the buyer’s location instead of the seller’s place of business. The change meant that almost all of Dell’s local sales taxes will be redistributed to the location in Texas where orders are delivered. The rules as initially proposed could reduce Round Rock’s revenues from sales tax by catastrophic levels.

Although the rules adopted in May do not appear to be as damaging as earlier versions, they will still have a notable negative impact to the city’s revenues when they go into effect on Oct. 1, 2021. We will continue to seek changes to the rules during this legislative session before the October effective date to preserve these revenues, which fund basic services, capital projects and property tax relief for our citizens.

We understand that some changes to sales tax rules are needed to comply with legislation passed last session in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., which held that states may charge tax on purchases made from out-of-state sellers. However, without more practical solutions, this state-level decision could have serious unintended impacts for our local community and the value of the services we are able to provide.

The good news is that other Texas cities are working shoulder to shoulder with us in this battle. Also fighting with us is state Sen. Charles Schwertner, who was instrumental in organizing several of his fellow senators in support of Round Rock and many other adversely impacted cities in this state, and state Rep. James Talarico, who asked many important questions of several testifying witnesses and made a clear case for Round Rock and Dell at the Ways & Means Committee hearing.

There’s too much at stake not to fight this proposal every step of the way, and I look forward to working with our legislators and the comptroller to devise solutions that will avoid serious impacts on the basic, every day services that make us proud to call Round Rock home.

Halley: Looking back at Round Rock Library’s growth

Geeta Halley is the Assistant Director of the Round Rock Public Library and writes a column for the Round Rock Leader.


Geeta Halley, Assistant Director of Round Rock Public Library

As I write this, 2020 is on its last legs. The turning of the clock to the new year is often a time of reflection and remembrance of lessons learned, losses endured and blessings received.

New Year’s Eve 2019 was different for me in this regard: to honor the dawn of 2020, a fresh decade, I decided not to do a roundup of the past year or decade but instead look forward. Today, as the last few hours of 2020 slip away, I look back to see if absolutely everything was awful, or if any progress was made despite the events that have made it such a difficult and tumultuous year. Without question, in the world of technology, events influenced their evolution and adoption. I adapted to Zoom and Teams both at work and in my personal life. In a strange twist of “too much of a good thing” with regards to technology, I found myself returning to basics. Cooking in the absence of closed restaurants. Walking outside in the absence of closed gyms. Reading books – not e-books on a tablet or device, but physical print books – to escape from screen-time fatigue.

When the library was closed during March and April, we surveyed our customers to see what they missed most about the library. Their response delighted us: they missed physically browsing books on the library shelves! To better facilitate this browsing experience in the pandemic era (when limiting patrons’ time in the building is sadly essential), Linda Sappenfield, one of our reference librarians, created a ‘Book Deli.’ The Book Deli menu, curated by Linda and our other librarians skilled in “Reader’s Advisory,” consisted of old and new favorites, award-winners, staff recommendations, often grouped around a particular theme. In November, the menu theme was wellness titles. December was award winners. Visit the library’s website to see various thematic menus ranging from popular fiction, heartwarming reads, time travel and current issues.

Sometimes it is difficult finding a good, clean read that still has an interesting, adult plot and keeps you engaged for hundreds of pages. I agree with book blogger Mrs. Ladywordsmith when she writes, “None of us likes to be surprised with strong language, sexually explicit scenes, or things that make us cringe. That said, we’re not taking time to read boring fluff. Reading is our personal escape to challenge our minds and go places. We want books with good plots, strong characters, and realistic experiences. So, what do we read?”

For those who share this sentiment and want a classic menu of “just a good book” to curl up with by the fireplace here are a few well-written favorites:

  • “The Light between the Oceans” by M.L. Stedman
  • “The Fixer” by Jennifer Barnes
  • “My Ántonia” by Willa Cather
  • “Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck
  • “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson
  • “Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven” by Fannie Flagg
  • “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
  • “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot
  • “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
  • “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
  • “These Is My Words” by Nancy Turner

For younger children, I recommend tuning in to our online storytime “Pause and Play with the storytime librarians”. The storytime librarians, Ms. Jane, Ms. Virginia, and Ms. Andrea, create short videos to share a fun rhyme, song or book. New videos are uploaded onto a playlist at the official city of Round Rock YouTube channel, then shared on Facebook and (as of mid-May) Instagram IGTV Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m.

As 2020 wanes away, I am thankful for the beneficial takeaways and unintended consequences that have sparked growth and beauty amidst the loss and isolation. For being forced to slow down and cultivate patience. For the pleasant process of curling up and savoring a good book. Thank you 2020 for the lessons I have been forced to learn!

Mayor Morgan: Plans for Downtown Round Rock move forward

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

Many years ago, I was block walking in the Stone Oak subdivision in Northwest Round Rock. At the time, I was living in Southeast Round Rock. One resident told me, “It seems like you live so far from where I live – why can’t we have a downtown where we can meet and gather?”

Even as our city grows, Downtown serves as a reminder of what makes Round Rock unique. Whether it’s meeting friends over a relaxed meal, shopping or doing business with local entrepreneurs or making memories with our families, Downtown represents so many ways that we can stay connected as a community.

It’s been difficult this year to feel connected with our neighbors and friends in the traditional sense. When the COVID-19 pandemic first reached our community and business closures were implemented to slow the spread of the virus, I was sad to see so many open parking spaces in front of our Downtown businesses on my drive to City Hall. Some of our favorite Downtown events, such as Music on Main, were canceled earlier this year to slow the spread of the virus.

As we’ve navigated through this pandemic, we’ve found ways to incorporate safe ways to help residents enjoy the holidays. Christmas Family Night was canceled this year, but we put together our Light up the Lake event earlier this month, which allowed us to host an event at Old Settlers Park with better safety guidelines in place. We have been able to bring back our Hometown Holiday lights Downtown this holiday season and hope you take the chance to enjoy them. It’s hard to not feel the Christmas spirit as you take an outdoor stroll along the lit paths or take a drive to gaze at the decorations.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit Downtown Round Rock recently, you will be amazed at how much more work has been accomplished in just a short year. The City has completed six “parklets” on East Main Street between Mays Street and Sheppard Street, which include new trees, tables and chairs, additional landscaping, lighting elements and expanded walkable space for pedestrians. New lighting and sidewalks also provide pedestrians safer access to Main Street from some of our adjacent underutilized parking lots. A new electronic sign at the entry of the City Hall parking garage on Lampasas Avenue gives a real time view to visitors of how many spaces are available.

Getting our Downtown to where it is today has been a long-term undertaking. Fostering a vibrant, walkable Downtown for residents and visitors to gather has been a City Council strategic priority since 2007, and in 2010, that vision began to take shape with the approval of a Master Plan. This plan included extensive public input through surveys, interactive planning meetings and other feedback received from residents.

Just over the past decade, this planning process has resulted in Prete Main Street Plaza upgrades, Centennial Plaza, Round Rock Avenue and Mays Street streetscaping and the start of the Heritage Trail project. City buildings also received renovations, including the McConico Building, the Baca Senior and Community Center and the Intermodal Transit and Parking Facility. Private investments have brought us new eateries, offices, retail and more.

There are still many more projects in the pipeline to continue improving our Downtown district. One of our most exciting projects will be the new library at 200 East Liberty Ave., which will be approximately 66,000 square feet with an adjacent parking garage. In November 2013, a majority of voters approved bonds to build a new main library, which is set to open in 2023. With additional space and modernized features, the library will expand its core services and feature advanced technology.

We are working on even more improvements to support the future of Downtown. The Northeast Downtown Improvements Project will update segments of Lampasas, Sheppard, Liberty and Austin Avenues with new pavement, parking, sidewalks and lighting, with completion expected in early 2022. Although they are less visible, we expect to also address important infrastructure upgrades including wastewater and stormwater runoff throughout the project.

Progress is not slowing down anytime soon on Downtown, so it’s important we continue to support our local businesses while we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. Our entire community is concerned about what the pandemic’s disruptions to business operations have meant for our local small businesses, and for the families of their employees. We are encouraging residents to step up and support our local businesses by shopping at home for the holidays, and I challenge you to find a way to support a Downtown business in the coming weeks. We have installed temporary curbside pickup signs in front of these restaurants and retail establishments so you can have your order delivered right to your car.

Christmas looks very different this year for a lot of us, but it’s important to still slow down and take stock of everything we miss in the hustle and bustle of daily life. By visiting Downtown Round Rock, you are sure to get that “right at home” feeling its known for, no matter which part of Round Rock you are from.

Round Rock resident uses Christmas decorations to help support local dog rescue

It’s been a ruff year for all of us. So, when we heard the pawsome news that a local Round Rock man was using Christmas decorations on his lawn to spread holiday cheer in our community and support a barkin’ good cause, we knew we had to help unleash the joy.

Cole Gedwillo has his home decorated with more than 100,000 sparkling lights that are programmed to a playlist of 17 different holiday-themed songs in an effort to help raise money for the local dog rescue, Helping Hands Basset Hound Rescue.

The Gedwillow Christmas Lights display is located at 3430 Sandy Koufax Lane in Round Rock’s Ryan’s Crossing neighborhood.

Go check out the twinkling display this holiday season and help make the season extra furry and bright.

Happy Howlidays, y’all!

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Gedwillo Lights (@gedwillo_lights)