Council takes steps to balance budget

By SHELLY WILKISON

In an attempt to close a $76,325 gap between proposed expenses for fiscal 2013 and city income, the Liberty Hill City Council voted Monday to delay employee raises until 2014, increase its projected sales tax revenue, and take uncommitted money from utility funds.

On Sept. 16, the Council voted to keep the 2012 tax rate rejecting a 5 percent increase proposed earlier by Mayor Jamie Williamson that would have funded a $1.1 million budget. Choosing not to raise taxes, the Council made some cuts to the Mayor’s budget proposal, incorporating changes proposed by City Manager Greg Boatright and Councilmember Vicki Brewer.

The Mayor, who attended last week’s meeting but left before the budget work began, was critical on Monday of the efforts made in her absence.

“There is a substantial deficit in this budget,” she said. “This is not my budget. You have a lot of cutting to do. I didn’t see this until Friday (Sept. 20).”

“Well, we worked on it all that Monday (Sept. 16),” responded Boatright.

Boatright and Mrs. Brewer offered a plan to balance the budget without raising taxes, which the Mayor labeled as “risky”, that utilizes unencumbered monies from the city’s water fund, wastewater fund and city sewer fund. Boatright said he had confirmed with the city’s financial advisor and bond counsel that transferring money from those funds

into the general fund for maintenance and operations is legal and common practice among municipalities. Mrs. Brewer confirmed that as long as the utility funds are left with a balance sufficient to cover bond payments or debt service, transferring money to help balance the city budget was acceptable.

The total proposed transfer is $43,000.

Mrs. Brewer said she believed the original budget had under-estimated the projected revenue that would come to the City from sales tax. She proposed the projection be increased and noted that in the current fiscal year, sales tax revenues had increased 7.8 percent or about $25,000 over the prior year.

Councilmember Wendell McLeod suggested the city delay a proposed 3 percent cost of living raise for employees until after Jan. 1, 2014. Boatright said the move would save the City about $13,000 during the first quarter of the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Mrs. Brewer, who in the end was the lone no vote against the motion by Councilmembers Liz Rundzieher and  McLeod to use utility fund transfers, delay pay raises and increase sales tax revenue projections, told The Independent after the meeting that she believed employees should not have to wait for a pay increase.

“Our people work hard, and our officers put their lives on the line for us,” Mrs. Brewer said. “We have to keep the good employees we have.”

Police Chief Randy Williams earlier requested that the pay for first year police officers be increased in order to stay competitive with area law enforcement agencies. That change in the salary schedule will also be delayed until 2014.

Currently, the City pays cost of living raises on the employee’s anniversary date following a performance review. Boatright disagreed with that system suggesting cost of living increases should become effective when they are initiated rather than at a hiring anniversary.

Mayor Williamson said transferring funds from the three utility accounts seemed “risky” because much of those funds are committed to debt service.

“Based on the information that I and other city council members have received, this is one option. The other option is to start cutting services,” Boatright said. “The City Council did a good job on holding the line on taxes. It’s in the Council’s purview to move money from one fund to anther. It is a common practice cities use to balance their budgets.

“The Council has taken a conservative approach to that budget,” Boatright said. “The numbers are tight and will have surplus in our budget. I don’t have any reservation when I recommend to the Council that you do these three things (transfer funds, increase projected tax revenue and delay pay raises). There are no numbers in the budget that are out of line.”

Because an ordinance had not been prepared by Monday’s meeting, adoption of the budget was delayed until Sept. 30 when it will hold a special meeting.

In other business Monday, the Council tabled action on a proposal by Boatright to appoint current City Secretary Tammy Kirk  as interim Court Administrator and adopt a job description for the position.

Mayor Williamson recommended the Council delay action on the personnel change until Attorney Art Rodriguez could review the proposed job description. However, she suggested that once the description is prepared that the position be posted because she said Mrs. Kirk is not qualified.

“My recommendation is that Tammy Kirk is a valuable employee of the city and this (position) fits what she is capable of,” Boatright said.

“Are you comfortable with the potential liability on the city?” the Mayor asked Boatright, to which he responded affirmatively.

The job description states the employee would have one year to be properly trained.

The position of court administrator became vacant earlier this month with the resignation of  Lolly Chavera. Shortly before her resignation, the deputy clerk resigned. Mrs. Kirk has been acting as interim administrator.

The Council also delayed action on approval of a job description for City Secretary and advertising the vacancy. The decision was made so that Rodriguez could review the job description.

Both motions to table passed on 3-2 votes with McLeod and Councilmember Connie Fuller voting no.

Also this week, the Council unanimously approved an extension on a preliminary plat for Highland Meadows Subdivision. It was last approved in 2011 and a representative of the development said plans are on hold pending possible acquisition of additional frontage along State Highway 29.

The council also accepted a petition for voluntary annexation of Lot 3 Branigan Subdivision on SH 29. Councilmember Elizabeth Branigan abstained from voting.

In a report to the Council, utility Superintendent Brian Kirk said sewer pumps in use within the city limits are breaking “on a regular basis.” He said they were built to last five to six years and most are approaching the six-year mark. Kirk said the city is replacing about three pumps per month and has only five remaining in stock. He said more pumps would need to be purchased soon, adding that the average cost of a new pump is $1,500 and the cost to rebuild a pump is $1,400.