Council decisions impact future growth, city administration

By SHELLY WILKISON

The Liberty Hill City Council made several far-reaching decisions on Monday that will impact how the community accommodates future development, as well as how city government conducts its business.

After some discussion, the Council unanimously approved a $100,000 task order for the engineering firm of Steger Bizzell of Georgetown to design an expansion of the City’s wastewater treatment plant over the next three months.

“Now is the time to begin construction on a new plant to add 800,000 gallons per day to the (wastewater treatment) system,” said Perry Steger. “Fourteen months ago, you were at 120,000 gallons per day of 400,000 capacity. You have doubled that today to 240,000 gallons per day.

“Talking with developers, we know what they are doing and can easily project that we will be at the 400,000 capacity in 18 months,” he continued. “So, it is critical that we start now. We are already cutting it very close.”

The expansion will be constructed at the site of the current wastewater treatment plant. Steger said the new facility, although not yet designed, will be better for the environment than the current facility. A proposed long rectangular design can be expanded in place as needed.

“This will put out good water and will be economically cost effective,” he said.

At the current projected rate of growth, Steger said it could become necessary to expand the plant by 800,000 gallons every other year after the new facility goes online in late 2015. When the new facility is operational, the City could take the current system off line for maintenance and upgrades.

“This will have stricter water quality requirements than the plant today, particularly when it comes to limits on phosphorus,” Steger said. “It will meet six-seven times the lower limit on phosphorus, and reducing that will have a positive impact on the river. I would be happy about that (if he resided nearby).”

In addition to designing the plant expansion and treatment process, which will require approval of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the firm will also create a funding plan for the project. The Council will give final approval before work begins on the expansion.

For more than a year, residents along the San Gabriel River near the plant’s discharge point have complained about the quality of the effluent and its environmental impact.

Steger told The Independent Monday that the plant under the management of US Water is currently operating within its permit limits in accordance with state regulations. However, in the past under a previous operator, there were some questions.

Residents along the river have posted photos and video showing the discharge, and their request for a public meeting with TCEQ was approved and will take place on August 7.

“There were elements (of the problem) caused by previous plant operators,” Steger said, adding that the plant had been “mismanaged.”

The City is still negotiating with the Brazos River Authority on some of those issues, including payment for some invoices received by the City.

Steger said at the meeting in August, which will be held at Liberty Hill Council Chamber, TCEQ will consider the input and then make a decision regarding whether to grant the City’s application for additional capacity. He said the application in question does not include additional capacity that will be requested when a new facility comes online.

He said if the agency rejects the application, the City would be forced to find another way to deal with the discharge.

The City purchased the plant in 2011 from the Lower Colorado River Authority, and currently has contracts with neighboring municipal utility districts to treat wastewater. As more residential developments move into the area, Liberty Hill will continue to be asked to meet sewage treatment needs.

The Council approved a second task order for the firm to perform engineering and inspection services for Phase 3B of the City’s wastewater collection system. The task order was for $108,000 over the course of one year at 20 hours per week.

The construction will be performed by Aaron Concrete Contractors for the amount of $2.3 million, which is funded through Texas Water Development Board.

Also Monday, the Council voted 4-1 to appoint Senior Planner Amber Lewis to the position of Finance Director.

Mrs. Lewis, who had municipal government experience from Nebraska, was hired as planner earlier this year.

The Council created the position of Finance Director in May and posted the job. City Manager Greg Boatright said he conducted several interviews with outside applicants who said the posted salary was insufficient.

Mrs. Lewis received a $20,000 pay raise with the promotion to bring her new salary to $65,000. Councilmember Liz Rundzieher voted against the move. She said the salary was “too steep for Liberty Hill” and expressed concern that Mrs. Lewis did not have an education in finance. In previous positions in Nebraska she was responsible for financial matters.

For the past two years, the City has contracted with outside bookkeepers for financial record keeping. Boatright said bringing the financial work inside is important.

“We need to be financially independent,” he said. “We are ready to bring all the financials in house, including payroll. I have full confidence in her (Mrs. Lewis) and have no reservations about her.

“You, as the city council, deal with a lot of negative issues, but I want you to know the positive things I’m hearing about the council in public,” Boatright added. “This (positive input) is a change that was needed. We are improving our image as a city.”

With Mrs. Lewis’ new assignment, the City will hire another planner. In the meantime, however, the Council approved an addendum to its contract with the law firm of Alan Bojorquez. The firm will provide planning services for two months at a cost of $6,750 per month for up to 80 hours per month. Sallie Burchett, a municipal planning consultant with the firm, will provide the assistance on an interim basis.

“She is one of the most experienced planners, and we need her to bridge the gap,” Boatright said, adding that she has been consulting with the city already on some projects including efforts to gain oversite within its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

Boatright said in 2007 then-city leaders gave up the oversite to the Williamson County — a decision he suspected was made due to insufficient staffing. As a result, years later, the City is giving away as much as $500,000 in fees for proposed developments in the Ronald Reagan Blvd. and State Highway 29 area.

“Eventually, all of this may be in our city limits and we want to make sure we have a voice in what is going on there,” he said.

The planner is also working with staff to negotiate development agreements being sure to cover the City’s actual costs.

In other business Monday, the Council voted 4-1 to grant a conditional use permit for the construction of three four-plexes on Stubblefield Lane.

Previously, the Council heard complaints from neighborhood residents who were concerned about inadequate streets and the traffic problems that could result from the addition of 12 new families. Residents also complained to the Planning & Zoning Commission, which voted last month to recommend council approval of the permit.

Boatright said he spoke with property developer Chris Pezold about the traffic issues, and Pezold agreed to deed the right of way on Stubblefield to the City so that the street could be expanded. Boatright said he was confident that adjacent property owners will follow suit, allowing the city to widen the street. The City will develop a plan for Falwell, which will be the main entrance and egress to the four-plexes.

“When we look at these streets, they are inadequate. This pushes us to address the problem,” Boatright said.

Mrs. Rundzieher cast the no vote after inquiring about the time frame. Boatright said it could be 2018 and some work was contingent upon the County’s actions with regards to development of a bypass that is expected to connect with Stubblefield Lane.

Also Monday, the Council voted to:

* Award a $44,500 contract to David Medrano Concrete for drainage improvements on Myrtle Lane, and

* Approve an ordinance allowing the Planning & Zoning Commission to review final plats.

Following a 45-minute executive session, the Council voted to authorize Boatright to continue discussions about acquisition with the property ower at 3205 RR 1869. The Council also authorized Boatright and the City Attorney to continue discussions with BRA regarding disputed invoices.