Council approves contract with sewer plant operator

By SHELLY WILKISON

A glance around the room at those present for Monday’s City Council meeting was indicative of a growth pattern that in recent months appears to be defining Liberty Hill.

Residential and commercial developers took seats on the front row of the Council Chamber alongside representatives of a company hired this week to operate the City’s wastewater treatment plant and sewer system. Also present were representatives of an engineering firm that is  playing a heavy role in the development of infrastructure to meet the anticipated growth.

And just as elected officials gave nods of approval on a number of infrastructure-related issues, they also dealt with growth by approving a request from the Liberty Hill Police Department to add manpower.

A request from the Chief of Police to add a reserve or unpaid officer to the force was on the agenda Monday. Chief Randy Williams said the additional patrol officer is needed to help the department cover residential and business patrols in addition to working increased traffic along through highways.

The Council approved the addition of David Ahr as a reserve officer. Ahr was employed by LHPD from 2006-2007. Currently, he is a reserve officer with Jonestown Police Department, and has previous experience with Lago Vista and Leander police departments.

Reserve officers are not compensated, but the City does provide uniforms and worker’s compensation insurance. Williams said he hopes to add two additional reserve officers in the months ahead. With the addition of Ahr, the department’s force is five full-time officers including the Chief, one part-time officer and two reserves.

The Council voted unanimously to approve a one-year contract with US Water Utility Group for the operation and management of the City’s wastewater treatment plant and city sewer system.

US Water replaces the Brazos River Authority as plant operator, as well as Severn Trent and Crossroads Utility Service, the two companies that have been maintaining the sewer system inside the city limits.

The City will pay $30,592 per month under the new contract.

In ending the service of the Brazos River Authority, the City may be responsible for about $69,000 worth of outstanding invoices — some of which are under negotiation, said City Manager Greg Boatright.

Councilmember Vicki Brewer asked why the original bid submitted by US Water was $190,000, yet the contract total considered Monday was over $367,000. She said on the surface it appeared the City was a victim of a “bait and switch.”

“That’s what we were all looking at when we made the decision of where we wanted to go,” Mrs. Brewer said.

Aaron Laughlin of Steger Bizzell engineering firm said the original bid was built on a base fee and did not include additional estimated variable costs that are factored in the contract. Among those added costs was sludge handling — a variable cost of $40,000 (annually) based on an estimated 10 loads per month.

“The contract is for (operating the) plant and operating the entire system. This is a greater scope than what BRA was doing,” said Perry Steger of Steger Bizzell. BRA was only responsible for operating the treatment plant.

“We’re still under what we’re spending currently,” added Boatright.

The Council authorized Boatright to send termination of service letters to BRA, Severn Trent and Crossroads Utility Service.

Also Monday, the Council voted unanimously to approve two resolutions granting consent to the acquisition of road powers by Williamson County Municipal Utility Districts 19A and 19B.

The move allows Santa Rita Ranch subdivisions to improve interior roads to meet Williamson County requirements. Williamson County will be operating and maintaining the roads inside the development.

The Council approved a bid from Contractors Asphalt for just under $150,000 for construction of curbs and paving on Myrtle Street, Church Street, Kristi Lane and Hickman Street. Originally, Bell Street was to be included in the road improvement package, but City Utility Superintendent Brian Kirk said the costs for Bell Street exceeded the $150,000 cap the Council previously placed on the project.

Following a public hearing where no one spoke, the Council adopted an ordinance amending the Unified Development Code regarding conditional uses in areas zoned as C-4, Neighborhood Commercial,/Retail and C-2, Downtown Commercial/Retail.

City Planner Amber Lewis explained that the zone change allows for conditional use permits of duplexes in the C-2 area.

“Someone who wants to build a duplex in these areas can go to Planning & Zoning (Commission) for a conditional use permit,” added Boatright, who said duplexes were already present in the area.

The Council also unanimously approved changes to the Bylaws of the Planning & Zoning Commission. The Commission has spent some time cleaning up the document and recommended the Council adopt its changes.

Also Monday, officials learned of pending violations against the City issued by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for failure to report to water customers the results of lead samples taken from their homes by Severn Trent last summer.

Kirk said the City is required to test homes built in the mid-1970s for the presence of lead and copper in the water. He said the substances are not in city wells. Acting on the City’s behalf, Severn Trent took the samples and sent them to labs for testing, but failed to notify the customers of the results, Kirk said.

Since learning of the problem, Kirk said he has been communicating twice weekly with Severn Trent in an attempt to get the company to send the notices to customers. The Council asked Kirk to update them in two weeks.

Mayor Williamson, for the fourth time in the past three months, addressed bookkeeping problems she saw in financial documents. The miscategorization of various line items has been raised by her numerous times and staff continues to respond that items are being corrected.

The Mayor went through individual items in the Profit and Loss Statements raising questions or noting discrepancies in the record keeping.

Boatright explained, as he has before, that funds are received into the General Operating account and then paid into other city accounts.

“That’s the way it has always been done,” he said, referring to how the books were kept prior to his employment last year.

The Council also approved an application for a site development permit for Boomer’s, which is expanding its convenience store at 13801 W. SH 29.

In other business Monday, the Council received a report from the Municipal Court showing activities during the month of March. Total revenue collected in March was $9,742. There were 84 new cases filed, 67 cases were closed, 31 warrants were issued and 24 warrants were cleared. The court held seven hearings before the Judge and three pre-trials with the City prosecutor.

Councilmember Elizabeth Branigan was not present Monday.