By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
The first draft of a budget for the Liberty Hill Economic Development Corporation was unveiled Monday at a workshop for its board of directors.
The budget places a larger emphasis on travel and advertising efforts than in years past, and makes use of the EDC’s newly filled position for an Executive Director.
It anticipates collecting $325,596 in revenue from the sales tax, representing a 3 percent increase over the current year’s budgeted revenue.
A second draft with minor revisions will be reviewed at the EDC’s meeting at 5 p.m. today, August 17.
Looming over the three-hour discussion Monday was the prospect of creating a “comprehensive incentive program”, which though unrefined beyond a general outline at this point, would seek to lure large-scale employers to Liberty Hill.
Executive Director Lance Dean said that when prospective businesses call him, “they always ask, what incentives do you offer? We need to have a good, simple answer.”
The item was included on the meeting’s agenda, written by EDC President Bill Chapman, as a way to “kick-start a discussion.”
Currently, the EDC is set to pay for one “living unit equivalent,” or LUE, of businesses downtown over 2,800 square feet. Businesses that size are required to purchase four LUEs.
LUEs are one-time fees that must be paid representing the expected wastewater usage of a commercial space, and are $4,500 each.
In the 2016-2017 budget, $50,000 was earmarked for “Capital Outlay Drainage.” None of that money was dipped into for the budget year, which closes at the end of September, nor was the $45,000 set aside for “Downtown Impacts.”
“I don’t think any building downtown is large enough to max out the four LUEs,” said Director Eric Van Natter. “They would have to be a restaurant, and all of those fall outside.”
Van Natter also suggested leaving blank for now the $100,000 set aside for helping fund improvements to the RR 1869 and State Highway 29 intersection, which was earmarked a year ago when Williamson County said it would cover the construction, but not the engineering portions of any upgrades there.
The Board agreed to consolidate the budget line items for downtown drainage, impacts and transportation into one called “Capital Improvements and Incentives” for $195,000.
The new category would cover the incentives program to be defined later, and also removes the downtown designation that would have forced the EDC to ask for Council permission if they wanted to apply it elsewhere.
In the discussion of the incentives program, it was agreed that it should only apply to large businesses, decided by factors such as projected sales tax revenue, employment opportunities, or minimum capital investments.
“Chicken Express, for instance, needed a large amount of capital up front because it was the first in line off the highway there,” Dean said.
Two questions the Board wrestled with were how to categorize the businesses — such as those investing $500,000 in a property versus those putting in $100,000 — and what form the incentives should take. Suggestions ranged from tax relief to bearing up front costs for utility connections.
Chapman said the program could be discussed further at the meeting Thursday.
The budget draft also allots $25,000 for travel reimbursements. Dean originally suggested $20,000, but the Board raised it in anticipation of traveling to more trade fairs and other events this year, such as those held by the Williamson County Economic Development Partnership or the Texas Municipal League.
The 2016-2017 budget had set $5,000 for travel, though projections put the year’s ultimate expenses at $17,800.
“I’d rather we have enough next year than be needing to scrounge for travel,” said Director Rick Hall.
“This budget takes into account the fact that we have someone using it,” Dean said, referring to his employment earlier that year as Executive Director. The two previous occupants of the position held it for less than a year.
The budget also allocates $73,500 for salaries above last year’s $70,000. The increase reflects the 5 percent raise from City Council to all city employees, including the EDC Executive Director.
As Director, Dean has also made moves toward beginning a new advertising campaign for the EDC. Last month, the Board decided to purchase lip balm sticks and magnetic can holders with the organization’s logo.
Advertising in the budget was increased from $25,000 this year to $50,000.
In other changes, the Board suggested keeping the $500 earmark for a credit card, even though the EDC does not have a credit card connected to its account.
Hall suggested that the organization apply for one, as he warned that it would be easy on the road to mix up receipts and might create a headache later during tax season.
The Board also agreed to carry over the $500,000 from last year’s fund balance, and to keep it in reserve.
“I think we have some nice coffers full of money … and everyone under the sun wants it,” Member Johnny Johnston said. “But you never know when a Toyota or a Samsung is going to come. We don’t want to miss that kind of opportunity to bring hundreds of jobs.”