Drainage fee, sales tax changes discussed at workshop

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill city officials say a day-long retreat Monday was beneficial to City Council members, city staff and members of the Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors.

Elected and appointed officials were briefed by city department heads on previously set goals that had been met as well as future needs.

The workshop was held at Santa Rita Ranch North. A similar event last year was held at Cimarron Hills.

“I thought it was real positive,” said City Manager Greg Boatright. “I think the Mayor (Connie Fuller) was happy with the way things went.”

Boatright said the annual retreat, in its second year, serves as a “good reality check” on progress being made toward meeting a number of goals to improve city services and manage growth.

During the workshop, Boatright said he learned from engineers that the Legislature had passed a law two sessions ago allowing municipalities to charge a drainage fee in addition to other utility fees like water and wastewater or sewer service.

Boatright said the City will explore that fee as an additional way to pay for much-needed drainage improvements throughout the city. He said some cities charge $8-$12 a month for drainage, and mentioned Houston, Galveston and Lubbock as cities that had adopted it.

He said the Council and members of the appointed Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors had also discussed Monday the possibility of splitting the current 1/4 cent sales tax in half and transferring revenue generated by 1/8 cent to the street maintenance fund to be used for drainage work and other street improvements.

Boatright said when he posed the question to EDC members Monday, there was no reaction. He said 1/8 cent generates about $80,000 annually for the EDC.

“With additional funding like that plus a drainage fee, we could make a real impact on improving our streets section by section, and quite possibly go to a curb and gutter type street, which would be huge for our city,” he said.

“I think at this point, in my view, just because the infrastructure of our city is the most negative aspect of our city, this would be a good option,” he added. “We have streets designed for local residents, 950 people, and we are adding population and runoff. With that runoff comes liability because the city is responsible for how that is addressed. It is a bigger issue than we want to realize, but there’s ways to address it. I’m looking for ways to fund capital projects without having to burden the General Fund with the whole issue of streets and drainage.”

Boatright said the topic will be discussed further in a future workshop involving council members and EDC appointees.

Among the additional topics discussed this week were downtown revitalization efforts, including the design of the new administration building and associated costs. The contractor was present to outline various features of the building, but no action was taken. The Council will consider the project in an upcoming regular meeting.

Also part of the downtown discussion was the need for additional improvements to the sidewalks. Boatright said there needs to be a smooth transition between the concrete sidewalk and adjacent driveways.

The EDC’s Facade matching grant program has been a success, Boatright said. He said the Masonic Lodge has recently applied for a grant, as well as Parker’s Corner Market. He said the EDC will be discussing at a future meeting the possibility of extending the grant program to businesses that are in old town, but off Loop 332.

EDC Board members Debby Norman and Eric Van Natter asked for clarification about how the Council envisioned the board’s role in city government.

“For the first time, this is the most involved and dynamic board we’ve ever had,” said Mayor Fuller. “I hope you can see that we want to work with y’all. You’re important to us.”

Boatright suggested another workshop be scheduled for council members and EDC directors to talk openly about how the entities can work together to improve the community.

Boatright told The Independent Tuesday that some of the items on the workshop agenda were not addressed, but that didn’t concern him.

“We always run out of time at these things. We could have spent two days talking on all of this, but what ends up happening is the most important issues get addressed,” he said. “The issues we talked about with the EDC, it was good to have members there to have a very open discussion about the role the EDC plays in the development of the city . It’s an eye-opening experience too for EDC Board members to be involved in discussions about the city. It helps them understand how things are funded.”

On the agenda was a discussion about how to best utilize the city’s office buildings, especially with the new administrative building coming online later this year.

The recent relocation of the police department to the Municipal Court building after dangerous mold was discovered in the police department office on SH 29 made the topic a timely one, however, it wasn’t addressed.

On Tuesday, Boatright said the police move to the Municipal Court building is a temporary one. He said after the administrative building in complete, he believes the police department should move into the current City Hall offices. In the meantime, however, the municipal court building will be renovated this fiscal year to improve the council chamber, restroom and foyer. Boatright said a conference room will also be added.

Council members who attended the workshop Monday included Wendell McLeod, Elizabeth Branigan, Ron Rhea and Fuller. Council members Troy Whitehead and Liz Rundzieher did not attend.

Participating from the EDC Board were John Clark, Jack Harkrider, Lance Dean, Norman and Van Natter. Also in attendance was Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Clyde Davis.

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