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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Mayor: Round Rock’s strategic plan sets path for success

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


It’s no secret why Round Rock continues to gain national attention and accolades, with an increasing number of residents moving here to enjoy our beautiful parks, community events, recreational activities, economic opportunities, safe neighborhoods and local retail. Despite our fast growth, we’ve been able to maintain a family-friendly community that is distinctive by design.

As much as I and the rest of City Council would like to take credit for these great successes, many are the result of seeds that were planted in the past. As we harvest the fruits of our predecessor’s labors, we must continue the process that will set up Round Rock’s future generations and leadership for even more success.

In February, City Council held our annual two-day retreat, which allows us time to update and reprioritize our Strategic Plan, the foundation for all long-term City initiatives. We gathered at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex, a 60-acre, $27-million facility that was added to Old Settlers Park just this past year. Looking out at the well-kept fields and facilities, I couldn’t help but think about the seeds that were planted almost 15 years ago to make this project, and others like it, a reality in our community.

In 2004, the City of Round Rock launched the Sports Capital of Texas tourism program that has since led us to host an array of youth, amateur and recreational sporting events and build tournament-class facilities. Not only did the Council at the time understand the economic potential of this endeavor, but following Councils carried the torch to ensure its ongoing success. Just this past January, we recognized former Mayor Alan McGraw’s political courage and vision by dedicating the Round Rock Sports Center Complex in his honor.

Even today, our designation as the Sports Capital of Texas remains one of our top strategic goals. Our long-term goals haven’t changed much over the past few years, but we do revisit and reprioritize them as needed to meet the changing demands we face. Our strategic goals for the next five years remain the same from last year: Financially Sound City Providing High Value Services; City Infrastructure: Today and for Tomorrow; Great Community to Live; “The Sports Capital of Texas” for Tourism and Residents; Authentic Downtown – Exciting Community Destination; and Sustainable Neighborhoods – Old and New.

Maintaining the financial soundness of our City as well as providing infrastructure that serves the needs of our community now and in coming years remained the highest priorities. We’ve heard our residents loud and clear that we have room for improvement in the City’s road

network. In our most recent citizen survey, 77 percent of residents felt traffic flow in the City was worse compared to two years before. Although we have very little control over improvements to state roads and highways, we can do everything in our power to ensure that residents experience a safe and efficient network of City streets and have transportation options beyond personal vehicles.

Priorities that increased in importance this year were those that strive to make our city a “Great Community to Live” and maintaining an “Authentic Downtown.” We have seen so much change and success in Downtown Round Rock and want to see sustainable, responsible growth in the heart of our community.

Some might say we’re lucky to be the sort of community we are today. I would argue we’ve made our own luck over many years of long-term planning and vision casting, and must continue to do so in the coming years and decades to maintain and grow our hard-earned reputation for success.

Round Rock recognizes local third-grader for incredible service to community

You don’t have to be old to stand tall for your community! Gracie Garbade, a student at Patsy Sommer Elementary, does just that and she’s only a little more than half way through third grade.

In fact, Gracie started helping others and serving the community when she was just 5 years old. She wanted to help feed the homeless, especially homeless children.

After talking with her family, they came up with the idea of a food drive.

“I was driving with my mom and I saw homeless people and I felt bad for them,” Gracie said. “The plan was we would set up multiple different booths in our neighborhood, and we would ask family and friends, and make lots of posters.”

Her first year, she collected 100 pounds of food by setting up simple donation stands in her neighborhood and asking those she knew for help. Fast-forward to 2017 and her efforts multiplied, touching the lives of many more as she was able to collect over 1,100 pounds of food by leading the charge to create a school-wide donation drive.

She talked to classrooms and even spoke on the school announcements to get the word out.

“My goal is for everyone in the world to have enough food to eat,” she said.

According to others, Gracie has a heart of gold and is always helping others, one year even going so far as writing a letter to Santa asking him to bring gifts for all the kids in need.

Seeing this story and understanding the incredible importance of people helping people, City Council, at its Feb. 22, 2018 meeting, took time to consider a special presentation in recognition of Gracie’s service to Round Rock. Mayor Craig Morgan also had a special one-on-one meeting with the young leader and her mother.

Thank you, Gracie. Our community, state, nation, and world need more people like you.

Mayor Morgan on the City Council dais with Gracie and her brother.

 

Mayor: UniverCity program gives inside look of city

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


Local government touches our lives every day, often in ways that we take for granted.

First responders and building inspectors keep us and our families safe. Engineers design essential infrastructure, including the roads we travel and the pipes that bring water to our homes.

Planners help envision and shape city growth while maintaining the uniqueness of Round Rock. Parks and Recreation provides ways for us to connect with each other and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Employees across several departments maintain our existing infrastructure to keep our investments in working condition. Our city managers work with stakeholders from across our City to make the goals we set on City Council a reality. In addition to these necessary services, the City of Round Rock persistently works to meet changing citizen demands, advances in technology, and new federal and state mandates.

Our residents have a unique opportunity to learn more about how their local government works in UniverCity, the City of Round Rock’s citizen education class. Initially implemented by Community Engagement Administrator Joseph Brehm, UniverCity allows participants to experience firsthand the work it takes to run a city department. City staff hosts presentations to discuss operations, budget and challenges, and leads the class on tours of City of Round Rock facilities such as the Police Department, fire stations, park facilities and our sign shop. City Council members also attend portions of the class for question-and-answer sessions with participants.

Our first class graduated in December and was comprised of several community leaders from diverse backgrounds and interests. UniverCity received excellent feedback, and graduates said they felt much more knowledgeable about City services. Due to the popularity of the program, staff plans to conduct the classes twice per year, with one in the spring and one in the fall. At this time, applications are based on referrals from community leaders and those who have been through the program.

Most importantly, UniverCity provides useful experience for anyone who has considered serving on a City of Round Rock commission or taking another leadership role in our community. In an era of low voter turnout, we are constantly looking at ways to better engage citizens so that our City can continue to count on having informed and engaged leaders to continue Round Rock’s successes in the future.

Even after serving on City Council for almost seven years, I can tell you that there is always something new to learn about the way our City government functions and plans for the future. It is my hope that our graduates leave feeling as inspired as I do every day by all that our public servants do to make our community a great place to live.

To inquire about the nomination process for upcoming classes or other questions about UniverCity, please email Neighborhood Services Coordinator Katy Price at kprice@roundrocktexas.gov.

 

Round Rock set to host one of the largest cake shows in the nation

That Takes the Cake Sugar Art Show & Cake Competition is one of the largest cake shows in the U.S., and much to our sugary satisfaction, it’s back in Round Rock again in 2018.

The show is set to take place at the Round Rock Sports Center Feb. 23-25. It will feature competitions with more than 300 works of sugar art, informal demonstrations, full in-person classes taught by sugar artists from around the country, speciality vendors and more.

More information on the event can be found online at: https://www.thattakesthecake.org


 

City leaders attend summit to talk growth, economic development opportunity in Round Rock

  • December 15, 2017

  • By Austin Ellington

  • Posted In: The Quarry

Game-changer! Touchdown! Big win!

Sure, these phrases are synonymous with football, but here in Round Rock, they’re also heard on a pretty regular basis when folks get to talking about our economic development strategy. And at Austin Business Journal’s recent Williamson County Growth Summit, that’s just the topic that had attendees buzzing.

Mayor Craig Morgan, along with Round Rock’s City Manager Laurie Hadley and Councilmembers Writ Baese, Frank Leffingwell and Rene Flores, joined other leaders from across the region in attending a sold-out event focused on the incredible economic growth opportunities being seen across Round Rock and Williamson County as a whole.

Two of the seven panelists were connected to dynamic, new projects recently unveiled as huge economic development successes for the Round Rock community:

Kalahari Resorts & Convention Center
Bill Otto, Executive Vice President at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions

 

Kalahari Resorts has chosen Round Rock as the location of its fourth family resort and convention center. Its proximity to Old Settlers Park and Dell Diamond – two well-established venues that together draw more than a million visitors annually – bodes well for a successful, tourism-oriented development. This is essentially a new industry for Round Rock that will provide substantial property tax revenues and diversify available employment opportunities.

A family-owned business, Kalahari Resorts delivers a “world-away” waterpark resort and conference experience beyond expectations. The authentically African-themed Kalahari Resorts feature well-appointed guest rooms, full-service amenities, fully equipped fitness centers, on-site restaurants, unique retail shops and state-of-the-art conference centers.

The District
Paul Marshall Cate, CEO and President of Mark IV Capital

 

Mark IV oversaw development of Round Rock’s first Class-A office building, The Summit at La Frontera, in 2015, and now has plans to further expand its footprint in Round Rock with a $200 million, 1 million-square-foot mixed-use development. The District is planned for 65 acres east of the Round Rock Crossing shopping center at Texas 45 and North Greenlawn Boulevard.

With projects like these queued up for Round Rock, that not only diversify our tax base (and keep residential property tax rate among the lowest in the state) but also positively impact the quality of life for residents, we’re feeling pretty darn good about the future.

Interested in learning more about the strategy behind some of these projects? Check out the Chamber of Commerce website – the City partners with this organization to find, recruit and help make economic development touchdowns a reality for Round Rock: https://roundrockchamber.org/economic-development/

Round Rock Police, community volunteers help those in need decorate homes for the holidays

  • December 15, 2017

  • By Austin Ellington

  • Posted In: The Quarry

The holiday season is all about giving, and here in Round Rock, we take that sentiment to heart!

This week, community volunteers joined forces with the Round Rock Police Department, Meals on Wheels, and Home Depot to help decorate the homes of local residents. All together, more than 1,800 lights were installed.

During the event, one resident noted that she had never had Christmas lights before. Her son had promised to hang some for her, but unfortunately never had the opportunity before he passed away in 2010. The resident was incredibly grateful to have so many people come to her home and decorate it for the very first time.

“It was amazing to see Round Rock come together to brighten the holidays for these folks. This is what community is all about,” said Joe Brehm, Community Development Administrator for the City of Round Rock.

Considered such a success in its first year, plans are already being made to expand and improve it for next year. Thank you to Home Depot, Meals on Wheels and the Round Rock Police Department for making it possible for us to help bring a little ho-ho-hometown holiday spirit to the lives of a few local residents!

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Round Rock first responders honored by “Good Morning America,” country superstar Dierks Bentley

Hometown heroes. They are the men and women who risk their lives day-in and day-out to keep our local communities safe. And when disaster strikes hundreds of miles away? They again stand tall in the face of adversity, proud to serve their neighbors in need.

As Hurricane Harvey pummeled the Texas coast, Round Rock first responders quickly came together to answer calls for assistance. They said goodbye to their own families and worked to help save the lives of others, reconnect loved ones and began the long road of working to rebuild communities devastated by the storm. They, like they do all so often, put the lives of others before their own, without hesitation.

Often lost in the shuffle of the next big story, the effort of these men and women is many times overlooked. But not today.

This morning, country superstar Dierks Bentley and the folks from “Good Morning America” invited local first responders, including those from Round Rock who were part of the Hurricane Harvey response team, to a surprise block party where they received a very special “thank you.”

So how did our local first responders help during Harvey rescue and relief? Here’s a quick rundown:

Round Rock Police Department

  • We had three police officers respond personally in the first day or two using their own or friend’s boats
  • Our police department and Police Officers Association collected $4,600 in cash and filled up a trailer full of baby wipes, beef jerky, bug spray, hand sanitizer, Gatorade, and numerous other non-perishables to provide to first responders in Sugar Land as well as their families during this difficult time
  • At the request of the State Operations Center, we sent five officers to assist the Houston Police Department for seven days, pulling 14-16 hour shifts, to cover neighborhood checkpoints and conduct criminal apprehension patrols
  • We also sent five officers to Vidor, to assist with crime suppression and apprehension. These officers worked 14 days straight, pulling 14-16 hour shifts

Round Rock Fire Department

  • An Engine Company of five firefighters deployed to Bacliff to fight fires and perform low water rescues
  • A boat team with five firefighters deployed to Montgomery County, and performed many water rescues
  • A second boat team with five firefighters deployed to the Port Arthur area, and performed many water rescues
  • A tanker crew with two firefighters responded to Beaumont to assist with firefighting capabilities
  • Two elite personnel who serve on Texas Task Force One deployed to Rockport and later to Rosenberg, conducting search and rescue operations
  • Four command staff served 12-hour shifts at the State Operations Center in Austin to fill emergency management positions
  • Two logistics staff assisted at a state warehouse in San Antonio to assist statewide operations
  • One firefighter was part of the Texas Task Force One crew that was among the first search and rescue teams to deploy to Puerto Rico

To say we are extremely proud of our public safety team would be an absolute understatement.

To each and every member of those teams: You are truly deserving of the word hero. Thank you for keeping our hometown safe and thank you for making Texas, the United States, and our world a better place to call home.

September is National Preparedness Month

  • September 19, 2017

  • By Kristin Brown

  • Posted In: The Quarry


September is National Preparedness Month, which is designed to increase the overall number of individuals, families and communities that engage in preparedness actions at home, work, business, school and place of worship. The recent examples of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are good reminders of the importance of being prepared for emergencies.

While many communities in Texas and Florida are still dealing with the impact of these storms, we should all focus on ensuring we are prepared for the next emergency that could impact our community, whether large or small.

Here are some places you can go to help you begin your journey to becoming better prepared:

City Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division – Committed to serving the City of Round Rock before, during and after a major emergency or disaster. Find information on local threats and hazards, and ways you can become better prepared.

Warn Central Texas – A regional resource, sign up for emergency alerts and obtain preparedness information from the localities in the region.

Preparing Wilco – Williamson County Emergency Services Facebook page, and it contains a great deal of information and resources to help you prepare. You can also find out about WILCO Ready, its new preparedness app.

National Preparedness Month – Information on National Preparedness Month and the weekly themes being highlighted. There, you can access a multitude of additional information and resources that can help you on your journey.

Ready.gov – A repository of emergency preparedness information from the Federal government, you can find a variety of great information and resources on becoming prepared.

While September is designated National Preparedness Month, it is important to remember that preparedness is a year-round task. Emergencies can happen at any time, so we should all be prepared for whatever comes our way.

Hurricane Harvey recovery: How can Round Rock help?

Let’s take a moment to think about the Houston area and all those along the coast who have been crippled by Hurricane Harvey. Our community has been spared the worst. We are a city that works together with great success day in and day out, so today, let’s take a moment to send positive thoughts to the fellow Texans to our south. This storm has devastated communities and some families have a long, long road to recovery.

Looking for information about how you can help? Here’s a list of local and national organizations who are working tirelessly to help those in need:

Texas Fire Chiefs Association

The Texas Fire Chiefs Association is dedicated to assisting the citizens of Texas and victims of Hurricane Harvey. Over the next several months their focus will be specifically geared towards recovery for the first responders who may have lost their homes and fire departments who may need help getting back on their feet.

A website has been set up to collection donations. Please visit www.texasfireservice.org or click here to donate. Additionally the TFCA is collecting gift cards that can be distributed to the  first responders. Those can be mailed to: TFCA, P.O. Box 66700, Austin, Texas  78766

United Way of Williamson County

United Way of Williamson County will collect items and monetary donations to help meet the immediate and long-term needs of individuals and families in nearby communities affected by the storms. It has set up two options for Williamson County residents to partner with us to provide help and hope in the areas closest to home.

  • Financial contributions: Monetary donations can be made online at www.unitedway-wc.org, or by texting the word WilcoCares to 91999, or via check. All checks should be made out to United Way of Williamson County-Hurricane Relief Fund and should be mailed to P.O. Box 708, Round Rock, TX 78680. One hundred percent of donations will be directed to hurricane relief efforts. United Way of Williamson County will not be collecting administrative fees for this fund. Monetary donations are tax deductible. United Way of Williamson County is working closely with the network of United Ways across Texas to identify the areas in most critical need of resources.                
  • #WilcoCares Supply Drive: From Wednesday, Aug. 30 through Sept. 15, United Way of Williamson County is coordinating the collection of cleaning supplies and personal care items at locations in Cedar Park, Georgetown, Round Rock, and Taylor. Accepted items include bottled water, cleaning supplies, contractor grade trash bags, mops and buckets, heavy duty work gloves, hand sanitizer and more. Absolutely no clothing or bedding will be accepted due to a lack of time and resources available to sort and store those items. A detailed list of accepted donations can be found at www.unitedway-wc.org. The collection location in Round Rock is at 1111 N. IH-35, Ste. 220. Hours are Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.   

Austin Disaster Relief Network

ADRN is taking donations and helping groups to set up fundraisers to meet the immediate emergency needs of survivors and help fund the long-term repairs/rebuilds of homes. Taking community volunteer sign ups.

Salvation Army

The organization says it prefers monetary donations to food or other goods, as it can use the money to provide exactly what’s needed. It’s taking donations through the website, as well as by phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY. It accepts checks, “Hurricane Harvey” should be written on them.

NVOAD

Register as a volunteer with National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster at nvoad.org/how-to-help/volunteering/.

Central Texas Blood Bank

Donate blood  weareblood.org.

American Red Cross

Encouraging people to donate money on its website or to text 90999 to donate $10.

Diaper Bank

Diaper Donations being accepted for babies and adults. More information: texasdiaperbank.org

United Way

Houston’s chapter of community support organization United Way has set up a Harvey recovery fund. Donate online and choose to send the money to specific counties or let the organization decide.

Food banks

The Houston Food Bank is at 1-832-369-9390; its website also offers instructions to people willing to donate food and organize food drives, and takes monetary donations of as little as $1.

Traveling to Houston to Volunteer

Register through the disaster portal of Volunteer Houston or All Hands Volunteers, which are coordinating help.

Animal Assistance

Williamson County Animal Shelter is seeking foster homes and donations.

Austin Pets Alive! is seeking foster homes and donations of top current needs:

  1. Large plastic or metal bins with lids so we can safely store food and goods in dry places.
  2. Leashes + Martingale Collars (any size)
  3. Cat Litter – Clumping preferred, but non-clumping needed, as well.
  4. 6 full-size indoor brooms
  5. Cat Beds (not regular bedding)
  6. Liquid laundry soap

Other important needs include: 

  • Dog Treats* – Chew Toys/Rawhides, Treat Logs, Peanut Butter and Milk Bones for Kongs for all of our stressed and crated pups!
  • Paper or Styrafoam Bowls* – For feeding cats.
  • Kitten and Puppy Formula
  • Flea + Tick Prevention
  • Canned Wet Food and Tuna – Now only needed for cats!
  • Litter Boxes – 12×10″ or smaller
  • Large Metal Dog Bowls
  • Large Trash Bags
  • Updated Cleaning Supplies List – Bleach, paper towels, general purpose cleaner, latex gloves, dish soap, sponges.

*Most urgent need