Council overturns decision to acquire Loop 332

By Joseph Garcia

It has been just over a year since the previous Liberty Hill City Council voted to move forward with the acquisition of Loop 332 from the State of Texas.

On June 27, 2011, the City Council headed by former Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy voted 3-2 to take over Loop 332 with opposition from Wendell McLeod and Byron Tippie.

McLeod made a motion, which was seconded by Tippie, to not acquire the Loop. After that motion failed 3-2, former Councilmember Jack Harkrider made a second motion to authorize then-City Manager Manuel De La Rosa to move forward with negotiations for the acquisition. The Council adopted Harkrider’s motion 3-2 with McLeod and Tippie voting no.

At the time, De La Rosa said he anticipated that closing costs would be about $8,000, but the City later found out that number would be bumped to $10,000.

On Monday, the Council overturned last year’s decision with a 4-0 vote. Tippie was not present for the meeting that lasted nearly four hours.

“I move that we rescind the motion to pay $10,000 and not to take over the Loop,” said McLeod who voted no in 2011. The motion was seconded by Sammy Pruett.

Harkrider was at Monday’s meeting and said he couldn’t believe the Council overturned the decision.

“Now (the City) could be sued by TxDOT for the work they have already done,” Harkrider said.

In 2011, in anticipation of the City’s purchase of the roadway,  TxDOT replaced bridge culverts and made other improvements to the road that also improved drainage problems in some areas. When the acquisition was first discussed, the State proposed the City contribute 10 percent of the costs.

With Monday’s vote, that money will stay with the City of Liberty Hill.

In other business Monday, the Council voted 3-1 in favor of changing water meter readings from the 15th of the month to the end of each month. Councilmember Vicki Brewer voted no. The due date for bills will now be on the 15th of each month.

Right now the bills go out on the 25th and are read on the 15th.

“We have about 83 rental properties,” said McLeod. “Since we have so many rental properties, people when they rent were billed on the first day of the month and then we had to fix half the bill. So (this vote) will alleviate that, plus Chisholm Trail are monthly (billers). So for that reason I’d like to change it to the 30th or 31st.”

Also on Monday, a unanimous vote authorized Mayor Jamie Williamson and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Crane as representatives for transactions with Texas Local Government Investment Pool (TEXPOOL) and removed former Deputy City Secretary Rachel Austin, who resigned effective July 6.

Another 4-0 vote amended the zoning map for a property located at 1375 Loop 332.

The Fiscal Year 2011 Audit Report for the Liberty Hill Water Supply was approved 3-1 by the Council with McLeod voting no.

McLeod served as General Manager of the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. before it was taken over by the City of Liberty Hill. He then went to work for the City as Water Utility Operator, but was fired in December 2011. He was elected to the Council for another term in May.

CPA Donald L. Allman reported to the Council that total net assets of the LHWSC decreased by $90,607.

“That does require a little extra explanation though,” said Allman of the decrease. “There was about $60,000 in pre-paid expenses in the prior year audit since this was the last year for the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corporation…so with that in consideration the net decrease would have been about $30,000.”

With a vote of 3-1 the Council approved a change order for water wells six and seven from the original contract. The cost will not be affected, officials said.

“This change order is simply an adjustment of quantities based on the actual field conditions that were discovered,” said City Engineer Perry Steger. “When you drill a well, you don’t know how much screen you are going to use, you don’t really know how much casing you are going to use until you actually drill the well. It is simply adjusting the quantities. It’s not creating any new unit prices.”

After the change order item, the Council went into executive session for three hours and eight minutes to discuss a legal claim by McLeod against the City of Liberty Hill. McLeod was not in the room for that discussion, but did join the Council in closed session to discuss a number of other items.

Other issues on the executive session agenda included  an interlocal agreement concerning wastewater service to the school district, an evaluation of the contract of current City Attorney firm Russell and Rodriguez, LLP, an assessment of a proposal from the Bojorquez Law Firm, PLLC, as well as other personnel matters including the possible employment of Peter McKinney  for City Administrative and Code Enforcement services, but no action was taken.

Once out of the private meeting, the Council took action on only two items.

The Council voted 4-0 to temporarily employ Teri Moore of Liberty Hill Bookkeeping and Tax Services to provide bookkeeping service to the City.

Mrs. Austin provided those services as Deputy City Secretary before she resigned this month.

After the meeting, City Secretary Tammy Kirk clarified that the City will pay $35 per hour for full-charge bookkeeping and payroll services.

“However, as soon as they get better familiar with our books, we will most likely discuss a flat monthly fee,” she said. “This will be until a decision is made (by Council) to hire a permanent employee as our finance manager.”

The Council also voted 4-0 to accept reimbursement from Santa Rita Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Before adjourning, Utility Supervisor Brian Kirk reported that well No. 4 will be the first to receive a Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) with the project set to begin in the first week of August.

The Council’s next regular meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 23.