By SHELLY WILKISON
Members of the Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors voted Tuesday to recommend the Liberty Hill City Council amend the current city budget to reflect expenditures supported by the Board.
Among those was a proposed $80,000 salary for an EDC Director. After much discussion, the Board voted 4-1 to make the recommendation to Council with the panel’s top priority being to hire an expert on economic development to help attract new business to the city.
Director Cathy Cantrell voted against the proposal. She said before the city can attract new business, it must be able to offer the infrastructure. She said the budget should include funding for sewer construction and increased water supply.
Directors John Johnston, Brian Butler and President Frank Spinosa disagreed, suggesting the city budget addresses those needs outside the EDC.
“Our specific function is not to bring water into the city,” said Spinosa. “The City has their own budget.”
“That’s out of the realm of our function,” Johnston added.
“We’re not looking at their budget for water and sewer,” said Butler.
Mrs. Cantrell, former EDC president, said budgeting for an economic development professional is premature before the infrastructure is in place.
“If we don’t have water, we’re not going to have business,” she said. “You can spend $80,000 for a director, but without water and sewer at Seward Junction, what is he going to do for us?”
The City is currently in the process of adding two additional water wells that are expected to come online before the end of the year, and sewer construction has been ongoing since 2006 with the latest phase nearing completion this month. Included in the city budget are separate funds for wastewater and water utilities.
When asked where she would change the proposed EDC budget to allow expenditures for sewer and water, Mrs. Cantrell pointed to $16,000 in business development that she said would be better spent on sewer projects.
When asked what $16,000 would buy, Mayor Jamie Williamson responded that the money could be applied to engineering services.
Another major difference between the budget proposed by the EDC Board and the version adopted by the City Council is a $60,000 allocation for a sewer hookup at City Park. The Council approved spending EDC funds to connect a restroom facility at the park to the city’s sewer system over the objections of some who suggested a septic system would serve the purpose for about $50,000 less.
The EDC proposed budget includes about $10,000 for a septic system as opposed to the $60,000 already authorized by Council to be spent on the project.
Total expenditures in the EDC plan are $153,000, which is equal to the EDC budget proposed by the Mayor and adopted by Council Sept. 17. The Mayor’s budget for EDC was created without input from the EDC Board.
Spinosa has stated repeatedly that Mayor Williamson gave him about one hour to deliver a budget proposal that would be considered by Council as part of the overall city budget. When he arrived to present it to the Council, he was informed that it had to be approved by the EDC Board before it could be considered. The Council agreed to consider amending the city budget after the EDC Board presented an agreed-to proposal.
“The message (in this budget proposal) is that having a director is really important right now,” said Director Valerie Zapien.
“We have to have someone to get Liberty Hill in front of prospective businesses to let them know we’re here,” said Johnston. “Right now, we have no one to be our advocate. None of us are that type of professional person.”
While the Board was scheduled Tuesday to discuss basic requirements of an EDC Director or Manager, the panel spent most of its time discussing the attributes and qualifications of an individual the Board would like to see hired for the position.
The Board considered making such a recommendation to Council at its next meeting, but Mayor Williamson told the President she thought he was veering away from the meeting agenda by recommending a specific person.
In the end, the Board agreed to recommend that Council consider hiring someone with the same qualifications and background as the individual they have in mind for the job.
Also Tuesday, the Board voted to recommend that Council change the EDC Bylaws to allow three members of the EDC Board to call a meeting if the President does not.
“We need to put something in place to protect ourselves if for some reason the president does not call a meeting,” said Mrs. Zapien. “Most organizations do this. If the president was opposed to something that everyone else was for, they could use the power (to not call a meeting) and hold that over them.”
Mrs. Zapien, who serves as president of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce, said as the EDC Board Secretary she attempted to set Tuesday’s meeting, but was told at City Hall that she had no authority to do that. Only the President could call a meeting.
At the EDC meeting Oct. 16, Mayor Williamson warned the Board that its agenda was in possible violation of the Open Meetings Act and no action could be taken. She and the city attorney claimed the agenda was “too vague,” which resulted in the need for this week’s session.
Prior to last week, the EDC Board had not met since May.
The Board also agreed to wait until two vacancies are filled on the panel before electing new officers.