Council approves 5% tax hike

By SHELLY WILKISON

In a 3-2 vote Monday, the Liberty Hill City Council voted to approve a 5 percent increase in the property tax rate — an increase that will generate revenue that supporters say is needed to pay debt service in fiscal 2013.

Although Mayor Jamie Williamson is not able to vote except to break a tie, it was her recommendation that the Council adopt a tax rate of $0.563735 per $100 property value. The rate adopted is the rollback rate — the highest rate that could be set without taxpayers being able to start tax rollback procedures. Because it chose the rollback rate, the Council must have two public hearings on the proposal. Those hearings are set for 6:30 p.m. on August 22 and 26 in the Council Chamber.

Casting yes votes for the tax increase were Council members Vicki Brewer, Liz Rundzieher and Elizabeth Branigan. Voting no were Council members Wendell McLeod and Connie Fuller.

“If they (previous councils) had not taken on that debt (city sewer) several years ago, we wouldn’t be talking about doing this now,” said Mrs. Brewer.

“I think we need to leave the rate the same as it is now. I know we can cut something on the budget,” said McLeod.

The proposed new tax rate is $0.03 per $100 value higher than the current rate and is expected to generate up to $16,000 more in revenue for the City.

As the Council continues through the budget process, the future employment of interim City Manager Greg Boatright is likely to be a focus as the panel remains divided.

Boatright, who splits his time as  city administrator and director of the Economic Development Corp., was hired in the spring on a temporary contract that expires Sept. 31. He is paid $5,000 per month from EDC funds. Boatright was hired over the strong objections of Mayor Williamson and Mrs. Brewer. At the same time Boatright was hired, the Council voted to take away most of the powers of the Mayor.

On Monday, Mrs. Brewer offered a job description for a city administrator/public works director that she said would better fit the needs of the City after Boatright’s contract expires.

McLeod and Mrs. Fuller, who have remained supportive of Boatright, saw it as an attempt to disqualify Boatright from future employment as manager. The proposed job description calls for a candidate to possess a water license and have experience running a water system — qualifications Boatright does not have.

“This is a back door effort to get rid of Greg,” said McLeod.

Mrs. Fuller said the proposal would have the effect of putting the daily control of the city back in the Mayor’s hands — defying an ordinance passed by the Council months ago.

“This would change the ordinance on the Mayor’s duties and put all the decision making back under your control,” Mrs. Fuller said, noting that the Council had previously rejected that system. “We need an administrator who knows the ropes. He (Boatright) doesn’t need to be eliminated because he doesn’t have a B license for water and wastewater.”

A motion by McLeod to reject Mrs. Brewer’s proposed job description failed with Mrs. Rundzieher, Ms. Branigan and Mrs. Brewer voting no.

“You just fired him,” Mrs. Fuller said after the vote.

Mrs. Brewer then offered a motion to continue working on a job description with the assistance of Mrs. Rundzieher and Ms. Branigan. That motion passed 4-1 with McLeod voting no.

In other business Monday, the Council adopted an ordinance annexing property into the city limits that will be home to a 100-unit townhome rental community — Liberty Trails Townhomes. Construction on the development is set to begin in January 2014.

By a unanimous vote, the Council authorized Mrs. Rundzieher to work with Williamson County tax officials on a proposal to create a property tax exemption for residents age 65 or older as well as the disabled. It is an idea that she has brought to the Council on previous occasions. If the Council were to approve such a plan, it would not take effect this year.

In other matters, the Council accepted the resignation of Shane White from the EDC Board of Directors and appointed Rick Montelongo and Mrs. Brewer to the panel.

While the Council voted unanimously to appointed Montelongo, Mrs. Brewer cast the deciding vote for herself as McLeod and Mrs. Fuller were opposed and Mrs. Rundzieher and Ms. Branigan were supportive.

The Council also discussed a proposed price increase for engineering services currently provided by Steger Bizzell of Georgetown. Members agreed that a letter should be sent to the firm requesting that it honor its current engagement letter through the fiscal year.

Later in the meeting, officials voted to solicit input from other area engineering firms on the project of obtaining water from the City of Leander.

In other action, the Council:

- Accepted the resignation of Carmen Ortiz as Municipal Court Clerk.

- Voted to have the City’s official zoning map redrawn to reflect zoning changes that had been adopted over the years.

- Approved a $4,952 bid to build a bridge over the channel at City Park near the playscape. The action was recommended by the Parks & Recreation Board and the project will be paid from county grant funds.

- Agreed to hold a budget workshop at 6:30 p.m. August 20.