Council sets tax rate, discusses 2013 budget

By SHELLY WILKISON

The Liberty Hill City Council approved an ordinance Monday setting the 2013 tax rate at the current rate, and discussed ways to cut a proposed budget that they hope will bring expenditures more in line with revenue.

On Sept. 9, the Council voted 3-1 to reject a 5 percent tax hike proposed earlier by Mayor Jamie Williamson to fund a $1.1 million spending plan, which opponents of the tax increase complained had not been thoroughly vetted. A workshop to discuss the proposed budget was set three days later on Sept. 12, but failure to obtain a quorum resulted in a subsequent special meeting this week.

Although Monday’s special meeting agenda, which included a budget workshop, was posted Friday, Mayor Williamson said she had only planned for a three-minute meeting and excused herself prior to discussions on her proposed city budget. Although unable to vote except to break a tie, the Mayor was present for the vote on the tax rate.

With all Council members present, the panel voted unanimously to set the rate at $0.536426 per $100 property value – a rate unchanged from 2012. Of the total rate, $0.078731 per $100 value goes to maintenance and operations and the remaining $0.457695 goes to pay debt service.

In her absence, Councilmember Vicki Brewer walked members through the Mayor’s budget and compared it to a proposal by City Manager Greg Boatright. Most of the line items in both versions were similar, but where there were differences, members for the most part appeared to plug in smaller amounts than those originally proposed.

Mrs. Brewer and Boatright said they would not know the amount of the total budget as revised in the workshop until after press time Wednesday, but agreed that it had been reduced significantly during the two-hour workshop.

Boatright said his version of the budget originally included revenue anticipated for later in the year as the result of wastewater services that will be provided to area municipal utility district customers. However, he was advised to remove the projections until after agreements are in hand. At that time, the budget will be amended to reflect the additional income.

The Council reviewed the salaries of city employees. Mrs. Brewer asked the Council to consider creating a position for a  Public Works Director, who would have a Class A license to operate water and wastewater systems.

“Let’s get real,” she said. “We really need someone with that water and wastewater experience.”

Mrs. Brewer estimated the City could save as much as 15 percent in fees it is currently paying to third party operator Severn Trent if the systems were run in house.

“I have a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to the third parties we’ve had operating our systems,” she said.

She suggested the money is available from both the water and wastewater funds to pay the salary of such an administrator. Boatright said he had researched some comparable positions in other cities and found one person with similar qualifications and job duties who was earning $82,000 annually.

Mrs. Brewer said Police Chief Randy Williams had requested the Council raise the starting pay and the pay of a first year officer to close the gap between salaries paid by the Liberty Hill Police Department and those of other neighboring law enforcement agencies. She said the budget did not include a change in police manpower.

In other personnel matters, she proposed that a part-time laborer in the Public Works Department be turned into a full-time job with a 3 percent pay increase. Councilmember Wendell McLeod said there is not enough work to warrant the job becoming full-time. The department also has one full-time employee with the title of superintendent.

“We all know it’s (growth) coming and I don’t want to see us get derailed,” she said.

In the Municipal Court, the Council has reduced the number of employees for the present time from two to one after the resignation this month of Court Administrator Lolly Chavera. Mrs. Brewer suggested that the pay of the one employee be increased in order to attract someone with experience and qualifications.

“The Court has potential,” said Boatright. “A lot of revenue is not being collected that can be. We need to be more aggressive on collections. We aren’t generating the warrants we have in the past. I don’t have a reason for that, but tickets are fewer than in the past.”

To save more money, the Council agreed to decrease the projected expenditures for the prosecutor and judge based on the decline in activity of the court.

The Council also heard from Financial Consultant David Kautz, who was hired this summer to review some financial documents to determine the city’s financial condition. Kautz did not conduct an audit, but did offer suggestions for improvements and urged the Council to consider employing a financial person to manage city finances.

The Council is scheduled to adopt a budget at its regular meeting Sept. 23.