Proposed city budget calls for full-time police department, improvements to water infrastructure

The City of Liberty Hill could have a full-time police department in the coming fiscal year if the City Council approves a proposed budget that would provide funds for up to two new patrol positions.

But a 24-hour police presence is not the only new addition to a new city budget. Also proposed are two new positions in the newly-created city utility department and improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure.

City Manager Manuel DeLaRosa presented the Council with its first look at the 2011-12 fiscal year during a three-hour budget workshop Tuesday. Additional workshops are scheduled July 25 and August 15. The new fiscal year begins October 1 and a budget and tax rate will be adopted in September.

DeLaRosa, who was hired by the City in April, presented the Council with a $1.27 million spending plan that projects only $988,300 in revenue.

“In the end, we will have a balanced budget,” DeLaRosa said, cautioning that the numbers discussed with Council on Monday are preliminary and pre-date receipt of the total taxable values in the city. The certified tax roll will be available to local governments later this week.

“Until we see the real numbers, this is all speculation,” he said.

But regardless of the appraised value of taxable property in the city limits, DeLaRosa predicts the Council will need to raise taxes to pay for improvements to infrastructure and city services like added police protection.

“If we bring in additional police officers, I have discussed with the Chief the possibility of no more vehicles and no take-home cars,” he said. “We need a 24-hour police department. We have seen increased numbers of break-ins of businesses, warehouses and construction sites. Having a police presence is important.”

DeLaRosa said he will also propose an increase in water and wastewater rates in order to improve infrastructure and services with the acquisition of the water system from the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. and a wastewater treatment facility from Lower Colorado River Authority. Both of those acquisitions are in the works now and he predicted the City will need to make a significant investment in personnel and training to run the department to higher expectations.

“We will need to expand and improve the infrastructure of the water and wastewater systems, and the dollar amounts will be reasonable,” he said. “What we will propose will be within the mid-section of rates compared to other communities.”

DeLaRosa said the City has been losing money on the installation of sewer services. In fact, he said for each installation or connection to the wastewater system, it costs the City $4,000.

At the same time, Council will consider raising taxes and fees, it will also consider new revenue streams for the City, he said.

DeLaRosa and city staff have been exploring the possibility of establishing a new permit for Alcoholic Beverages that would be a special use permit. Establishments selling alcohol would be required to purchase a permit from the City in addition to the permit they acquire from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

“It’s a revenue stream we have been missing out on,” he said, adding that he thought it had not been considered in the past because the City was not aware of it.

While the City will make an initial investment in the wastewater plant, DeLaRosa said the facility will generate revenue for the City as the area continues to grow.

He said staff is also exploring various options to improve the Economic Development Corp. so that it has access to more funding to create jobs and encourage new business to locate to the area. By restructuring it under a different classification, the EDC could begin collecting sales tax in the city’s ETJ rather that just the city limits. Local voters would have to vote on the issue.

Voluntary annexation of neighboring residential subdivisions is also a possibility, which would add revenue from property taxes.