City bans hand-held devices while driving



Beginning April 1, drivers in Liberty Hill can be fined up to $200 if they use a hand-held mobile communication device while driving a motor vehicle.

The Liberty Hill City Council unanimously voted Monday to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the use of handheld electronic devices while driving in the city limits, which includes State Highway 29.

“One reason I thought this was important is from a standpoint of trying to protect our young people, new drivers, to let them know to put it up until they get where they’re going,” said City Manager Greg Boatright.

Signage informing drivers of the ordinance will be posted on city limit signs.

“This will be good for our community,” Boatright said. “(Highway) 29 is bad enough to drive if you’re looking straight ahead.”

The offense will not be considered a moving violation like speeding or running a traffic light. Those moving violations, which follow a driver’s safety record, typically result in higher insurance rates.

Drivers wishing to use cell phones or other devices may do so if they move their vehicles out of the traffic flow and park. Using a device while stopped at a traffic light is not permitted.

A violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1 to $200.

The Council adopted another ordinance Monday that prohibits the tampering or bypassing of a city utility meter. A violation is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500 and civil penalties up to $2,000 per violation, with each day constituting a separate violation.

“This gives the City recourse when we find someone stealing water,” said Wayne Bonnet, director of Public Works.

Bonnet cited an incident that occurred in recent days in which a resident had placed magnets on the water meter to slow it down, enabling the resident to steal water. Because no ordinance was in place to address the theft of water, the City cannot be reimbursed for the water taken.

Because the incident occurred on Deep Lake Circle at one of the residences that is not inside the city limits, Williamson County law enforcement responded to the theft.

“There’s no way to tell how much water was taken,” Boatright said.

The new ordinance, which takes effect April 1, makes it a Class C Misdemeanor to tamper with or bypass a city meter. The offense carries a fine of up to $500 for each day that the violation exists.

According to the ordinance, a customer may be charged a $50 tampering fee as well as a $50 lock out fee, plus the cost of the meter if it is damaged. The customer may also be charged an additional $200 water deposit. The ordinance may be enforced by city water utility personnel as well as a peace officer. A meter may be removed or turned off by an enforcement official.

The City may also pursue injunctive relief and seek a civil penalty of up to $2,000 for each day that the violation exists.

In other business Monday, the Council amended an ordinance establishing a monthly minimum charge for the capital costs related to the provision of wholesale wastewater service to Municipal Utility District No. 19A — Santa Rita Ranch North.

The City’s Chief Financial Officer, Amber Lewis, explained that the $6,300 monthly charge is to reserve capacity in the City’s Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant for 6,600 LUEs or wastewater customers inside MUD 19A. The fee will be paid by the MUD. Individual residents inside the MUD will pay a monthly flat rate of $48 for wastewater service. The monthly MUD charge becomes payable beginning April 1.

“This enables the City to recover costs for current and future use of our plant and future transmission lines,” Boatright said.

Also Monday, the Council approved a $12,000 contract with Austin-based architect Don Eckols for the remodel of the Holloway building downtown. The City recently purchased the 4,000-square-foot building, which has served as a three-unit apartment building, for the purpose of housing city administrative offices. The building also has a parking lot.

The Council held the second of two public hearings Monday on a petition for voluntary annexation of a 36.802-acre parcel into the city limits. Commonly referred to as the Mason tract, the property is the future home of the Highland Meadows subdivision. Its southern boundary is shared by the City’s wastewater treatment plant, which has already been annexed into the city. No one addressed the Council during the public hearing on the matter.

The Council also approved the final plat of the OMS Subdivision located at Loop 332 and Hickman/Church streets. City Planning Director Jim Bechtol said the owner plans to divide one lot into two lots.