Council approves another change to bill pay process

By SHELLY WILKISON

Despite a warning from the Mayor that an issue had been placed on Monday’s meeting agenda by the city manager who was not authorized to do so, the City Council unanimously approved Manager Greg Boatright’s plan to expedite the process for paying city bills.

Although Mayor Jamie Williamson noted twice that the City Manager did not have the authority to place the item on the agenda, the Council appeared to ignore her comments and instead discussed the issue at hand.

Last month, the majority of the Council voted to limit the Mayor’s ability to spend money without the approval of the Council. As a result, all of the City’s bills must be brought to the Council for approval prior to checks being issued.

Boatright explained Monday that the City was incurring some late charges because the process was time consuming. He suggested a plan that would enable him to approve the bills as they are received and authorize the City Secretary to prepare checks. The Council would then review a list of invoices and give final approval and checks would be mailed the day following the council meeting.

“You would still have the authority to veto bills,” Boatright said.

Included in the meeting packet Monday was an ordinance adopted in 2006 authorizing the City Secretary to serve as the general accountant of the City. Boatright said the ordinance is still in place and no action by the council had replaced it.

Mayor Williamson disagreed, suggesting it had been changed when former Deputy City Secretary Rachel Austin had been assigned all of the financial duties. Mrs. Austin resigned the position in 2012.

With recent changes on the Council and the employment last month of Boatright as interim city manager, the Council voted unanimously to change the signature authority on city accounts. The Council approved a resolution that removed Council member Vicki Brewer as a signer and added Mayor Pro Tem Connie Fuller in her place. The resolution also authorized Boatright to sign checks.

The Council agreed to put on hold a request from Police Chief Randy Williams to replace failing audio equipment in use by Liberty Hill police officers on patrol.

Williams proposed that monies be transferred within police department budgeted funds, police seizure funds and from the Municipal Court’s Technology Fund to help pay for new camera systems for patrol units totalling $22,000.

Although Attorney Cathy Riedel did not take issue with the police department’s need to replace six-year-old equipment, she said state law prohibits the use of the Court’s Technology Fund to purchase the items.

Williams said the audio on existing video cameras commonly cuts out making the video of traffic stops unreliable.

“Audio is very important, not only for court evidence, but also in dealing with complaints on officer conduct during traffic stops. Video alone does not suffice,” Williams wrote in a memo requesting the budget amendments.

“We don’t know when they (the remote microphones) are not working,” said Williams, adding that replacement microphones or repair support is not available.

Ms. Riedel said the Technology Fund is “intended for use strictly by the court, not for use of law enforcement.”

She gave examples of approved items that would be used to improve court security or improve the functions of the court.

In other business Monday, the Council unanimously approved a proposal by Mrs. Fuller to conduct a mid-year audit on all city accounts.

“It doesn’t have to be a forensic audit,” she said. “We’re making some changes in tap fees, and I’d like an in-depth look at all the accounts to see if we are on target for what we want to do.”

Mrs. Brewer said the audit could cost as much as $6,000 since the price for a 12-month audit is about $12,000.

The Council also briefly discussed the possibility of freezing or offering discounts on city property taxes to senior citizens. The topic was placed on the agenda by Council member Liz Rundzieher, but no action was taken Monday.

Mrs. Kirk said she spoke to the County Tax Office about the possibility and was told that municipal governments typically make such changes in April, suggesting it might be too late to consider the options for the coming fiscal year.

The Council has already held one budget workshop in preparation for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Following a 40-minute executive session, the Council voted unanimously to reject a proposed settlement with the Brazos River Authority (BRA) over the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant expenses. The BRA has a contract to manage the treatment plant for the City.

The Council voted to have the Attorney draft a rebuttal and include fines and professional fees that would be paid by BRA.

“It should include stern languange that they need to get us in compliance,” said Mrs. Brewer.

After the meeting, Boatright told The Independent that the BRA has been out of compliance with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“The levels they are discharging are too high and nitrates are too high,” he said. “We have been trying to negotiate with them on compliance issues. While we are out of compliance, we run the risk of fines and repercussions for future permits.”