LH Council says no to Loop 332, again

By SHELLY WILKISON

In what may be the most voted on topic in recent memory, the Liberty Hill City Council voted Monday to undo a decision made last fall to take over Loop 332 from the Texas Department of Transportation.

In a 3-1 vote, Council members Wendell McLeod and Sammy Pruett, who from the beginning have opposed the city’s acquisition of the street, gained one more vote from Council member Connie Fuller to swing the pendulum back again. The three members said they believe the City of Liberty Hill can not afford the upkeep on the road, suggesting that in 10 years it will cost as much as $1 million to repave it.

Mayor Jamie Williamson said TxDOT was in the process of verifying an engineer’s survey of the roadway and taking the land out of the state’s inventory. The City had not yet received documentation making the transfer of ownership official.

“I expect any day to get a confirmation,” said Mayor Jamie Williamson.

The Mayor, who can only vote to break a tie, was opposed to the acquisition of the road during the 2012 election campaign along with Council members Vicki Brewer, McLeod and Pruett. After the election, the council members who were elected as part of a pro-business slate, voted July 13, 2012, to reverse the previous council’s decision to acquire it.  Tippie was not present.

When the matter came up again two weeks later (July 23, 2012), Mrs. Brewer and former member Mike Crane changed their votes to proceed with the acquisition and Tippie voted with them. At that meeting, the city’s engineers told the Council that they had already completed $10,000 worth of surveys on the project authorized by the previous council.

In September 2012, the Council voted 3-2 (McLeod and Pruett voting no and Tippie, Crane and Mrs. Brewer voting yes) to ratify the vote from July 23 and proceed with the acquisition.

Mayor Williamson said Monday that if the City reverses its decision now, it will likely be billed by TxDOT as much as $500,000 for renovations to the road completed in fall 2012.

Pruett reminded the Mayor that TxDOT District Representative Howard Lyons attended the Sept. 12, 2012, council meeting where he  stated that the improvements made to Loop 332 in 2011 and 2012 were not made contingent upon the City taking over the roadway. Lyons said if the City did not acquire the road, TxDOT would not sue the city.

Tippie, who has missed the past three council meetings, was not present Monday allowing the vote to swing in the opposition’s favor.

Although Mrs. Brewer was one of the council members who changed her position last year on the acquisition of the road, she was critical

Monday of the council members who were still opposed.

“We look like fish out of water,” she said, referencing the council’s changing position on the issue. “My Lord!”

“I’ve voted the same way every time,” responded Pruett.

Proponents of the acquisition have claimed that under city control, sidewalks and other improvements could be made through downtown and the city would have the flexibility to close the street for special events.

Lyons told the Council in September that the state had no resources to make parking and sidewalk improvements to the road, which he said was the impetus for the original discussion.

In other business Monday, the Council approved the purchase of a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup truck, a zero turn mower and trailer for the city utility department.

Before the discussion, Mayor Williamson announced she had filed a conflict of interest on the matter and recused herself from the discussion. Her husband, Monroe Williamson, is a sales consultant employed by Benny Boyd Used Cars, the local business selling the truck to the City.

The Council voted 3-1 with McLeod voting no to purchase the truck for $5,416, and the mower and trailer from Bill’s Tractor for $8,387.

City Attorney Cathy Riedel said the city was not required to seek bids on the items because the total price was less than $20,000.

Also Monday, the Council voted 3-1 with Mrs. Brewer casting the no vote to approve the allocation of $2,000 in economic development funds to pay for a permit, dig a test hole and evaluate/design a septic system for the restrooms at City Park. Two weeks ago, the Council voted to ask the EDC Board of Directors to approve the funding and the EDC Board voted yes last week. Proponents of a septic system say the initial work must be completed and a permit is obtained from Williamson County before the City can seek official bids.

Mayor Williamson and Mrs. Brewer continue to oppose a septic system for the park advocating instead that the restrooms be connected to city sewer.

When pressed to provide names of individuals who would be paid for the testing, McLeod said Kevin Moore would do the engineering and Greg Boatright would dig the test holes.

The Council voted unanimously to approve an $88,000 bid from Contractors Asphalt to repair portions of Ainsworth, Bryson Bend and Carl Ship streets. The company submitted the lowest bid for the work.

The Council was informed Monday that the City will issue a notice to water customers that Well #2 has tested positive for radium for the past four quarters.

Utility Superintendent Brian Kirk said the source of the radium is not known, but it poses no health risk. He said the well, which has been a problem for the past year, has been taken offline.

“It has only 22 feet of water in it and at one point it was down to zero (water) last year,” Kirk said.

The Council addressed other water-related issues Monday voting unanimously to allocate up to $15,000 to repair or replace a pump and motor in Well #3. Kirk said it appeared that the well was impacted by last week’s lightning storm. He said the well is not dry.

Overall, water levels dropped in March by about one-half foot, Kirk said. He reported that the city’s newest wells, #6 and #7, are now online during the day.

The Council also approved an audit report of the city’s finances prepared by Donald Allman for fiscal year ending Sept. 20, 2012.   Allman said he appreciated the assistance of the Mayor and Mrs. Brewer during the process.

“They’re up at City Hall working and searched for unrecorded liabilities. No money at all was paid to them. Most cities pay a stipend for council members,” Allman said.

Allman made the following recommendations:

* The person entering grant expenditure data wshould not have check-signing authority.

* A separate bank account should be maintained for grant income and expenditures.

The report shows net assets in the general fund increased by $19,274 over fiscal 2011. Unrestricted net assets were $557,014 and net of capital assets related debt was $550,885 for a total of $1,107,889. City revenue from all sources was $2.9 million, which represents an increase of $1.2 million from the previous year due to increases in grant revenue and increases in water and wastewater income and property taxes. Costs of water and sewer operations increased, raising expenditures by $638,770 over the prior year. The complete report is available for public review at City Hall.

Also Monday, the Council approved changes to EDC Bylaws. One change adds the EDC Vice President as a signer on the account. Another resolution, which was requested by the bank, identifies the signers by name rather than position.

Mrs. Fuller questioned the need for a “contract” between the EDC Board and the City, as expressed in the EDC Bylaws, for the purpose of identifying the EDC’s anticipated costs for attorney fees and city staff administrative costs.

“As I read the Bylaws, it uses theword contract,” said Ms. Riedel. “I don’t know that they need a contract, just have it in their budget what is anticipated need for legal and other services.”

“To me, this doesn’t seem necessary,” Mrs. Fuller said, adding that the items were already included in the EDC’s budget. She abstained from the vote while McLeod voted no, and Pruett and Mrs. Brewer voted yes.

Following a presentation by Planning & Zoning Chairman Clyde Davis during which he reminded the Council that the panel had yet to receive a rough draft of revisions to the City’s Unified Development Code as promised by Pete McKinney more than six months ago, Mrs. Fuller made a motion to appoint McLeod and herself to serve on a committee to work with McKinney to get the work done. The motion passed 3-1 with Mrs. Brewer voting no.

Mayor Williamson explained that McKinney had been reviewing the UDC, but work had stopped because of the realization that whatever the city adopted had to comply with Williamson County, which was in the process of revising its subdivision regulations. Ultimately, changes to the City’s UDC must be approved by the County.

“My opinion is that we should work on ours now,” said Mrs. Fuller, adding that any local revisions could be melded to comply with county regulations. “We need to be more aggressive on this (getting the work done).”

In other business Monday, the Council:

* Approved a 60-day extension setting June 16 as the deadline to participate in Phase 3B of the wastewater project.

* Set April 20 as a City Cleanup Day. The Council voted to rent a chipper to dispose of brush and limbs. City residents will be required to pay in advance for a permit to dispose of brush. McLeod voted no on the issue suggesting that if the city begins charging a fee, it will “defeat the purpose” of providing the service.

* Heard a report by Gary Jackson of the Liberty Hill Development Foundation regarding plans to dedicate a new sculpture donated to Lions Foundation Park by artist John Van Camp at 1 p.m. April 27 at the park. Jackson outlined plans to clean and move all of the sculptures from the current Liberty Hill Junior High campus to Lions Foundation Park.