City will reopen lease contracts for youth sports using City Park

By SHELLY WILKISON

The City of Liberty Hill is reopening its contracts with two sports organizations that use City Park for  youth soccer and football.

During a meeting of the City’s Parks & Recreation Board Tuesday, members saw for the first time a proposal prepared by Mayor Jamie Williamson and the City Attorney that the Mayor said would place the Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association (LHYSA) and Liberty Hill Youth Football & Cheer (LHYFC) under the same set of rules regarding park use.

The organizations currently have separate contracts with the City for use of the 22-acre park on CR 200 that do not expire until 2017 and 2018. However, there is a provision in both documents that  allows the City to terminate the agreements when they are not in season with one month notice, the Mayor said.

“There are a lot of differences (between the organizations’ existing contracts),” she said, adding that a standard contract would bring uniformity and protect the City.

“It makes sense that  any leagues using city property should be playing by the same rules and have the same contract,” said Parks Board Chairman Gregg Evans. He said he had read the contract and thought it was fair, “reasonable and well-written.”

Mayor Williamson explained that the draft document referenced soccer and football organizations, but it could be applicable to any sports organization that might one day want access to the park.

She said she brought the issue forward now because there have been problems in the past between the City and the organizations regarding use of water from City-owned wells to care for the ball fields. In January 2012, the City’s former administration locked down the well at the park claiming the non-profit organizations owed more than $2,000 for water usage. For years prior to that time, the groups had not paid for water. Leaders of both organizations claimed it was wrong for the City to charge them for water use when the water was being used to care for city property.

“I disagreed with it then (the actions of the previous mayor and city manager) and that’s why I think we should have something standard,” Mayor  Williamson said. “But, y’all (the Parks Board) need to be controlling more of this (park use) and have more say in it.”

Mayor Williamson said the proposal  allows each organization to use 50,000 gallons of water from the City’s well at no charge. Water usage beyond that will be billed to the groups.

“I think 50,000 gallons is generous,” said Evans.

“There will be some perception that Liberty Hill is not supportive of youth sports because it isn’t paying for all of it, but the City is providing the land,” said Evans.

The current park use contracts show each organization is paying $1 per year to lease the land. The groups are responsible for upkeep of the property and pay their own utilities — trash pickup, electricity, portable toilets. If they use water from a Chisholm Trail SUD meter, the groups also pay that expense.

Wilson, who serves as president of LHYFC, said he did not know the item was on the evening’s agenda and did not see a copy of the proposed contract prior to the meeting. He said LHYSA President Richard Marshall should also be provided with the document and asked to provide input before a vote is taken. Marshall was not present Tuesday.

“It’s not fair for me to see this and not let the soccer association see it,” Wilson said. “The soccer association has been at the park since before a park was there. The fair thing is to let them see that draft before we vote. Without them (LHYSA), there wouldn’t be a park and the City wouldn’t have a park.”

“Their input would be useful if it is coming from a good place,” responded Evans.

The 22.8-acre tract of land that is now City Park was donated to the City in 2004 by the Greater Liberty Hill Charitable Foundation. At that time, there were unpaid property taxes on the land and the City agreed to pay those as a condition of accepting the donation. Before the City’s acquisition of the property, the land had been cleared and improved for soccer fields with the financial support and labor of area parents and businesses that donated materials and equipment to LHYSA.

“Liberty Hill is two square miles,” said Board member Liz Branigan. “The leagues are used by people from a wider area. It’s not reasonable to think that residents of two square miles should be responsible (for supporting the leagues).”

Ms. Branigan reminded the Board of previous discussions regarding a community garden that she said she would like to see at City Park. She said some of the park is currently not in use by the organizations and proposed that a discussion on the contract would be the right time to talk about a garden.

“It’s the intent of the City to make it more fair across the board for whatever organization comes in here,” said Mayor Williamson.

The Board voted unanimously to consider the contracts at the next meeting agenda, Feb. 26.

Also Tuesday, the Board took another vote to recommend the Council pay the Pedernales Electric Co-op to run electricity to the park’s new pavilion and restroom facility. In the fall, the Board voted to run electricity above ground because it was less costly than running a line underground. However, when Evans presented the Board’s recommendation to Council for approval, he misspoke and said the plan was to run lines underground instead of above ground as the Board recommended.

Running lines underground will cost more than twice the amount needed to run lines above ground, according to information provided by City Utility Superintendent Brian Kirk. Additionally, the City will have to pay the costs to hire a contractor to do the dirt work.

Funds for park improvements are being paid for with a grant from Williamson County.

Wilson reminded the Board of the previous vote and the Board’s consensus that lines should run above ground to save money that could be used on other projects. Despite the additional costs — $5,271 (underground) vs $2,100 (above ground) – the Board voted to affirm what Evans had already presented and been approved by Council.

The Board also heard an update on the construction at City Park. Evans said the plumbing is in place for the restroom facility, which will begin construction next week. However, it is likely that the restrooms will not be open for a while because connection to the city’s sewer line will take some time.

The Board took no action, but briefly discussed possible park rules. Police Chief Randy Williams submitted in writing some ideas for consideration.