By SHELLY WILKISON
Visibly frustrated by ongoing council opposition, Liberty Hill Mayor Jamie Williamson adjourned Monday’s regular council meeting and loudly exclaimed “Unbelievable!”
Once again hoping to change votes in favor of connecting City Park restrooms, which are nearing completion, to the sewer system, the Mayor filled Monday’s meeting packet with letters from engineers and others who say a septic system will be more costly and pose more problems for the City in the long run.
Although a previous city council set aside $60,000 from Economic Development Corp. funds to pay for sewer connection to the new restrooms at the park on CR 200, the majority of the present council’s voting members and some current EDC Board members disagree with that decision. Opponents say connecting the facility to a septic system will be sufficient and less costly — saving EDC funds that would be better spent to hire a city manager who could help grow the local tax base by attracting new business.
Council members Wendell McLeod, Sammy Pruett and Connie Fuller, who was not present Monday, say they believe a septic system will be less expensive. McLeod has repeatedly reported hearing an estimate of about $10,000. In early February, the Council voted to authorize McLeod to seek bids on septic installation, but the item was tabled on Feb. 25 when McLeod had not received all of the bids he requested.
Monday’s conflict came when McLeod said $2,000 was needed to pay for a permit, dig a test hole, hire a site evaluator, designer/engineer before bids on a septic system could be solicited.
“We didn’t authorize money to get bids,” the Mayor said. “Who is this $2,000 going to be allocated to? Who will do the work? It’s amazing to me that you’re the only one who wants to spend money on this (septic study).”
Pruett reminded the Mayor that he was in agreement with McLeod.
“It makes sense to me to take a $2,000 gamble on wanting to see if it’s feasible, to see if we can save money,” Pruett said.
“We’ll have to redo the budget to find that $2,000,” argued Council member Vicki Brewer, who has remained supportive of a sewer hookup over septic.
Pruett and McLeod noted a letter from K.C. Engineering of Marble Falls, which was included in Monday’s meeting packet, estimating a sewer connection would cost $102,200 — $42,000 more than the $60,000 budgeted for the project from EDC funds.
“Where is the other $42,000 going to come from?” asked Pruett. “We’ll have to ‘redo’ the budget for $42,000 so the $2,000 doesn’t look all that bad.”
Pruett made a motion to ask the EDC for $2,000 from the $60,000 already allocated to pay for the study and permit. The motion passed 2-1 with McLeod also voting yes and Mrs. Brewer casting the no vote.
Mrs. Brewer shares the Mayor’s view that connecting the restrooms to sewer is the best option. She has stated that the City should connect its own property to sewer, especially when it is urging residents and businesses to pay for sewer hookups.
Council member Byron Tippie has in past discussions offered the high costs of the septic system at the Williamson County Cowboy Church where he was previously employed as an example of the potential costs to the City. Tippie was not present Monday and has missed two additional regular meetings since criminal charges were filed against him in January. His term expires in May and he is not seeking re-election.
While Mayor Williamson is not able to vote except to break a tie, she has been the most vocal proponent of a sewer connection.
“If you put septic there, it works best at capacity,” said Mayor Williamson. “It will not have capacity all the time out there. Right now we have a wastwater treatment plant that needs capacity. This would assist us to help us be in compliance there.
“Previous councils committed to this, this Council approved that plan. Here we are now still playing around with it. We have a sewer system in our budget,” she continued.
K.C. Engineering, which provided the estimate without charge, projected a septic system could cost $200,000.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association President Richard Marshall said he supported a sewer connection over a septic system. He added that his view was not an official position taken by the Association, which leases from the City the majority of the 22-acre park for youth soccer. He has estimated that about 200 young people register for soccer each fall and spring season.
Michael Wilson, an appointed member of the City Parks & Recreation Board and president of Liberty Hill Youth Football & Cheer, told the Council on Feb. 25 that he was not so much concerned about the functionality of a septic system, but he did not want to give up at least an acre of land. With space already short for parking on game days, he said a septic system would take up valuable space. He said about 125 were enrolled in his organization in 2012, but as many as 1,000 use the football portion of the park on game days.
Both organizations currently provide portable toilets at the park.
Funding for the pavilion and restrooms was provided by a grant from Williamson County.