Branigan focused on quality of life

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The quality of life in Liberty Hill is at the center of Place 3 incumbent Elizabeth Branigan’s campaign, and plays a role in how she considers each decision as a member of the City Council.

Elected twice, and appointed to her current term, Branigan is proud to count a tree ordinance and hands-free driving ordinance as projects she helped bring to the City as well as being a key person in the Fowler House purchase to foster the arts.

“Over the past 10 years I have served with a wonderful commitment. But back when I started we began a process to build a city government that is clean and ethically responsible to the citizens. Right now, with the City growing and changing so fast, I don’t think another person is going to have all the right qualities to replace me.

“I feel like we have not completed the process,” she said. “We have a number of infrastructure projects that are ongoing and I’d like to see them onto completion.”

While the lack of a change to the one-way streets downtown has drawn scrutiny from some in the community, Branigan stands by her advocacy for a new public hearing even though she did not ultimately support a change.

“I am the one who insisted on a public hearing,” she said. “The reason why is I think that we have gotten removed from the fact that we do serve the public and we’re there to represent them. We were definitely listening to all the opinions there, but sometimes you just have to do what is right as opposed to what is expedient.”

Finding ways to communicate with constituents today is a challenge council members face.

“People who wanted to talk to us called us on the phone,” she said of the past. “Even a few years ago we were small enough that everybody knew each other and anybody who had an issue could feel comfortable calling on the phone. Now I don’t know everybody.”

She also remembers when meetings were more divisive than productive.

“Liberty Hill is Liberty Hill, and all of us squabble with each other constantly,” she said. “But we come together in the things that are important and I’d like to see that maintained.”

During last summer’s budget debate, Branigan was an early advocate of reducing the tax rate, but settled on holding it steady due to concerns about the future.

“I wanted to lower it a small amount and be able to continue lowering it a small amount,” she said. “We felt we were in a good position to drop it to 49 cents, but I thought holding the line was the thing to do because I didn’t want to leave us vulnerable, and have sufficient reserves to weather any misfortune.”

Addressing capacity in wastewater treatment and issues such as fire flow in the City’s water system were why she supported the recent rate increases.

“Currently we have a water system that functions quite well, but it is old,” Branigan said. “We need for our water system and wastewater system to not operate at a deficit. We need for them to pay for themselves. If it operates at a deficit, its operating funds will be coming out of the general fund and eventually that will trigger an increase in taxes. Not only should we expand our water system, but we should expand it in a manner so that we don’t have to come back in a few years and upgrade the lines.”

Branigan is not against growth in the community, but she is concerned about how to grow in a way that doesn’t change the character and feel of Liberty Hill.

“In many ways I’d say I don’t want it to grow, but that’s not my choice,” Branigan said. “It’s going to grow in the highest quality manner so that we don’t have problems in the future.”

She said she has heard some say they want Liberty Hill to grow like Wimberley or Gruene, but she prefers a home-type over business feel.

“We need to grow in such a manner that presents a pleasant living space,” she said. “Downtown is our living area and we need to develop it in such a manner that it is a pleasant home for us. With that thought in mind, we need to avoid what is overly commercial.”

From protecting parks and setting new space aside, to preserving every tree possible as development occurs, Branigan wants to ensure the community doesn’t evolve into one people regret in the future.

“Right now we don’t value our open green spaces because we don’t have a lack of them because we have so many,” she said. “I really would be opposed to large businesses within the two-square miles because they cover such a large area with parking lot.

“We’ve done a good job with the subdivisions, requiring each one to have park space,” she said. “The residents that talk to me have indicated that things like that are important, the environment is important.”

Historically, according to Branigan, parks have a place of accord to meet, get to know one another and communicate.

“I moved here at a different time and we all got together at the Blue Hole,” she said. “That’s how we communicated, that’s how we came together as a community, in public spaces. These public spaces, if the city were our house, then those are like our living room where people come together and get to know each other.”

Park plans like the swim center at City Park, the development of Veterans Park and Wetzel Park and even small parks within new housing developments are high on her list of important projects.

“We need to be able to get outside and enjoy our outside spaces,” she said. “I want our city to be an uplifting environment for us. I’m a nurse, we need to foster a healthy outdoor lifestyle.”

With few places to gather in town, the Fowler Building and the future opportunities it provides will make a big difference for Liberty Hill.

“It exemplifies the history of our community, the best of the history,” she said. “I support using it to bring together the community. People like the Garden Club and the quilters need a place to get together and gather. It is going to be an open space for the community to meet and that is something that has been lacking for a long time.”

A supporter of the one-way streets plan and the roundabout downtown, Branigan supports ways she believes will slow and ultimately reduce traffic in that area.

“The traffic through downtown has large trucks coming through,” she said. “I think we need a truck route so downtown is not overwhelmed with truck traffic.”

Getting Williamson County and Commissioner Cynthia Long more involved in helping address transportation issues is a place she wants to focus more attention, but that doesn’t mean not moving ahead with plans the City has in place, including Stubblefield.

“Williamson County does have road planned, but it extends into the far future,” she said. “We need Stubblefield, even though the county has another road planned. (Stubblefield) is already a road and already in use, and we would have to improve it anyway.”

Just like Branigan wants to see the City stay ahead in preserving park space and building infrastructure, she said staffing levels at the Police Department should stay a step ahead of the growth.

“The Chief will always be pushing for more because he’s a good Chief and he’s behind his department,” she said. “I support the Chief and I think he does a good job. I don’t think they’re overstaffed now. It was only a couple of years ago we didn’t have enough staff to patrol at night. From a safety perspective I’d rather have too many than not enough.

“I’d rather be ahead of the game with the Police Department and have our officers already trained and already fully functional before there is a dire need for it with the population always increasing.”

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