Council affirms previous vote on water transfer agreement to qualify for loan assumption

The Council voted 4-1 Monday to adopt a resolution affirming a May 2010 Council decision to take over the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. making the City the provider of water services to city residents.

The Council and the LHWSC approved the transfer agreement one year ago, but the resolution adopted Monday was needed to satisfy a request of the lending institution where LHWSC has outstanding loans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development sent a letter last month requesting various documents that were needed before it could consider transfering the LHWSC loan debt to the City.

Councilmember Wendell McLeod, who is currently employed as General Manager of the LHWSC and has been consistently opposed to the transfer of the LHWSC to the City, voted against adoption of the resolution and made a motion to delay the matter for 60 days. He said the delay was needed to allow time for the LHWSC general membership to meet — another request made by USDA-RD.

“The City has its own response to make to USDA,” explained Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy. “I’m not sure this (the proposed delay) makes a statement that the City needs to make.”

“It would make a statement that we (the City) are doing what we should do,” McLeod said.

Attorney Kerry Russell said putting off adoption of the resolution would effectively eliminate the agency as a financing source.“The City has a right to provide water to its residents and the transfer has been approved,” he said.While the City has other choices for financing, keeping the USDA-RD as one of them makes sense, he said.

Council member Byron Tippie suggested that previous decisions on the LHWSC transfer were “under-handed” and he questioned the need to ratify them with a resolution.

“The Transfer Agreement is a legally binding document,” said Russell. “The Council is doing this (adopting a resolution) for their (USDA-RD) administrative purposes.“If we don’t do this, they won’t approve the loan transfer,” added Councilman Jack Harkrider.

Despite the lengthy discussion, McLeod’s motion to delay the decision failed for lack of a second, and the Council instead voted 4-1 to adopt the resolution.

McLeod said the LHWSC Board, on which he also serves, is scheduled to meet next week and will consider setting a date for the LHWSC annual membership meeting.

Also Monday, the Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution repealing portions of previously-adopted ordinances that limited the authority of the Mayor. The resolution lists certain “powers” for the position that do not conflict with the responsibilities given to the City Manager and comply with the authority granted under state law for mayors in Type A cities.

The previous Council voted three times to limit the Mayor’s authority.

Although she does not have a vote except in cases of a tie, Mayor Murphy said she disagreed with a proposal to limit the number of items a Council member can place on a meeting agenda.

“There have been too many restrictions already. I don’t see this Council as getting out of hand,” she said. “We’re all cordial and in agreement.”

Harkrider proposed staying with current policy which limits each Council member to two items per agenda and does not limit the number of items allowed by the Manager or the attorney. His motion was adopted unanimously.

The Council also voted Monday to spend up to $37,000 for the installation of three-phase electric service to the Panther Path Lift Station, which will serve the San Gabriel Crossing apartment complex. The apartments are currently under construction.

Also Monday, the Council voted unanimously to create an ad-hoc committee comprised of three citizens and Councilman McLeod to prioritize the streets in need of repaving and repair. The citizen members were not chosen Monday.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to start a system of paving our streets,” said McLeod, who chairs the Council’s Street Maintenance Committee. “We have $400,000 and we need to start a paving program.”

The City collects a portion of the sales tax for street maintenance. And although it was not clear why if funds were available, repaving had not been done in the past, the Mayor said she thought it “needs to be studied to prioritize the streets.”

Following a 45-minute closed session, the Council reconvened and voted unanimously to authorize DeLaRosa to start the process of securing property for two water wells. Construction of the wells will be funded by a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded through Williamson County.

City Attorney Kerry Russell offered Monday to donate family land on Stubblefield Lane to the City as a possible well site. He said there was enough land to also develop as a park.

DeLaRosa said Tuesday that he will work with engineers to determine the feasibility of the location as a well site, and will also explore other land possibilities.

He said he is hoping to have the new wells online by summer’s end.

The Council also voted to authorize DeLaRosa to write a job description for a part-time building inspector/code compliance officer, and advertise the position.

Although there was no discussion in open meeting, DeLaRosa told The Independent Tuesday that he believes the position is needed even though the previous Council voted in December 2010 to abolish it.

Since that time, the Liberty Hill Police Department has been charged with enforcing city nuisance, health and safety codes.
“Their experience is in law enforcement, not code compliance,” DeLaRosa said. “This is more of a job for a civilian than a uniformed officer.”

After comparing the rates of pay offered by other cities for similar positions, DeLaRosa said Liberty Hill had paid too much in the past.

Pete McKinney held the job at the time it was abolished in December. Since then, the City has called on other licensed building inspectors on an as-needed basis — a relationship that DeLaRosa said had resulted in a cost savings to the City.

He said McKinney will be eligible to apply for the position when it becomes available. DeLaRosa, who has the authority to hire an individual for the job, said he hopes to have the position filled in 30 days.

DeLaRosa, who became Manager in April, said he is familiar with the problems between the previous building inspector and the Council, but believes they are unlikely to occur again. Now that the City has a Manager, employees answer to him rather than elected officials removing some of the politics from the job.

In other business Monday, Tippie, who is youth pastor at Williamson County Cowboy Church, said a media company inquired about adding a digital component to the billboard at US Highway 183 and SH 29, which the church leases. Since the City’s sign ordinance restricts LED displays, a variance from the City would be required.

Tippie said the company, which proposed to post Amber Alerts and other emergency notifications in addition to its commercial advertising, offered to give the City some advertising space on the sign in exchange for a variance.

The Mayor said the lighted displays are a “distraction” to drivers. She said if the State of Texas wants to alert drivers to emergencies, the State should put up the sign rather than a for-profit company.

The Council took no action on the matter and the City’s attorney offered to collect more information on how other cities are dealing with digital signage.

Although state law kept the Council from taking action Monday on the selection of a newspaper to receive the City’s advertising business, the discussion became heated when Tippie suggested that the photo contributions of the company owned by Council member Charles Canady’s wife disqualified The Independent.

By law, cities must designate an “official newspaper” at the start of each fiscal year, which is in September. The law defines the qualifications a publication must meet to be eligible.

Tippie said the City Manager provided him with the law prior to the meeting, and although he knew the Council could take no action until September or October, he wanted the item for discussion.

“I thought the presence of Thunderstruck Photos indicated a conflict of interest,” said Tippie. “I wanted to try other publications.”
“What Byron is saying is it’s a conflict to take photos? She (Kathy Canady) also took photos for The Leader and still has photos on other people’s website (www.libertyhillsports.com, which is affiliated with The Leader). She still has a shirt with The Leader on it hanging in the closet,” said Canady.

“It’s not personal, Charles. Don’t take it personally. You don’t know my heart on this,” Tippie said.

“Oh, I think I do,” Canady responded.

“You aren’t a very good judge of character,” Tippie sai