City pool tops list of tax note projects

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Construction of a public swimming pool, the purchase of downtown properties for parking, and improvements to city buildings, drainage and streets are projects the City will pursue in the coming months using proceeds from the issuance of tax notes along with available city funds.

On Sept. 12, the City Council adopted its budget for fiscal 2016, set the property tax rate, and authorized the issuance of $1.1 million in tax notes to pay for city projects.

On Monday, the Council approved by a 4-1 vote a list of possible projects for 2016-2017 totalling $2.475 million. With all members present, Councilman Wendell McLeod cast the dissenting vote.

In addition to the tax note funding, the wish list projects would be partially funded by Economic Development Corp. funds ($150,000 for drainage and transportation improvements). The street maintenance fund would add another $100,000, and park fees in lieu of land donations from developers would provide $200,000. The General Fund Balance would add $500,000.

City Administrator Greg Boatright explained that the bottom line on the wish list is about $425,000 more than the combined available funds, but staff and council would work together to prioritize the projects. If all of the projects are not completed in the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, there is no tax note penalty.

Among the projects listed are a swimming pool with parking, restrooms and a concession stand at an estimated cost of $900,000; improvements to the VFW Park, $200,000; renovations and expansion of the Justice Center, $375,000; and purchase of the County Barn ($250,000), the Fowler Building ($200,000), the AT&T parking lot ($75,000), and the Casebolt lot for parking ($75,000).

The renovation of the former police station on SH 29 was also added to the list. The building was abandoned last spring due to dangerous levels of mold. The property was deeded years ago to the City by Prosperity Bank, but the deed prohibits the City from selling it or leasing it to a third party. Boatright estimated it might cost $125,000 to renovate it, or it could be torn down and replaced.

“We could use it for an information center, the Chamber (of Commerce office), the EDC (office) or a satellite office of the PD (Liberty Hill Police Department) to have a presence on (State Highway) 29,” Boatright said.

Also on the wish list were drainage and street improvements. The Council discussed the possibility of upgrading a water line on Myrtle Lane, which could facilitate additional parking on the street there near the former VFW post.

Boatright said the Mayor had spoken with Fellowship Church about the possibility of leasing the area behind the former VFW post (now owned by the church) for additional parking. The City made an offer to lease the parking area for $1,000 per month, but the church countered with terms that were not acceptable, including a 30-day notice to opt out of the agreement. Potentially, the City could make investments in the property and be turned out with 30 days notice from the church, Boatright said.

“That’s when we started looking at other options,” he said.

Event sponsorships
An ordinance adopted Monday caps the amount the City will contribute toward sponsorship of community events.

After weeks of discussion by the City Council and the EDC Board, city leaders set the cap at $10,000 per event.

The ordinance takes effect Oct. 1 and will apply to sponsorship requests for events scheduled after that time.

The City Council has already given final approval to $10,000 to sponsor the 40th Celebration of the Liberty Hill Sculpture Park, an event scheduled Oct. 15 at Lions Foundation Park. Of those monies, $3,000 comes from the EDC Fund, and $7,000 from the General Fund ($5,000 from Other Programs line item and $2,000 from Parks & Recreation sponsorship line item).

Council Member Ron Rhea has taken the lead on the issue of event sponsorships.

He first attempted to restrict sponsorships to events held within the city limits, but the proposal failed to get a majority vote of the council in August because opponents said it would restrict the freedom of the EDC Board to make decisions about the events it wanted to support.

At that time, Rhea said organizers of the Liberty Hill Rodeo, which the City supported in April with a $20,000 contribution, failed to keep their part of an agreement that called for the City to be listed as a top sponsor on marketing materials and at the event that was held at Harvest Ranch Arena at Williamson County Cowboy Church. City funds were used to secure the event sanction from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Rhea brought another proposal to council Sept. 12, but the draft of the ordinance was not written as he intended and the issue was tabled until this week.

“I’ve already talked about this, and am glad to see the EDC got wind of this, and I’m pleased with their guidelines like I’ve been trying to get across,” Rhea said.

The EDC discussed the guidelines last week, then met in closed session to consider a sponsorship request by organizers of the sculpture celebration. After 41 minutes, the Board convened in open meeting and voted to allocate $3,000 to that event.

On Monday, the Council approved the EDC’s $3,000 sponsorship, then approved the ordinance setting the cap.

Rhea said it is important for the City to have “a paper trail for these funds” in order to maintain its fiduciary duty to taxpayers.

The EDC Sponsorship Guidelines require event organizers to show estimated revenue generated for local businesses by event attendees, provide “a summary of measurable outcomes related to the event”, and promote the EDC as a sponsor by using the logo and providing a copy of media materials and advertising for approval prior to printing.

In fiscal 2015, the City helped fund the Liberty Hill Christmas Festival and the rodeo.

Site plan for Tanner Building
The Council approved a site plan Monday for the Tanner Building, which will include a coffee shop and four additional retail/office spaces for lease.

The building will be constructed at 12777 W. SH 29 — across the highway from CatTrax Rentals. The 5,000-square-foot building, developed by Jason Tanner, will include a 1,000-square-foot space for a coffee shop/restaurant.

Tanner, who was present Monday, said his family-owned restaurant will sell coffee, pastries, and more, and will have an outdoor seating area. Plans also show a drive-thru window.

Involuntary Annexation
The Council voted to authorize city staff to move forward with involuntary annexation proceedings of 292 acres of the Hogan and Abbott tracts near the Summerlyn subdivision on US Hwy 183. The property shares a contiguous boundary with the city limits at Capitol Aggregates, which was recently annexed into the city.

Boatright said the city’s strategy in annexing the land, which is now agricultural use, is to keep it from becoming a municipal utility district (MUD) ahead of its residential development.

“We don’t want this to be another MUD on our doorstep,” he said.

The first public hearing on the matter will be Nov. 7, and area residents will be notified by mail.

Ragweed
Also Monday, the Council approved a plan to notify property owners in the city that steps should be taken to rid their property of ragweed.

Mayor Connie Fuller said the City has a dangerous weeds ordinance that it will begin to enforce due to the toxicity of ragweed.

“The best way is to spray,” she said.

City staff will look into the most effective way of killing the ragweed, and property owners will be notified by mail.

In other matters, the Council approved the appointment of Rick Hall to fill a vacant position on the EDC Board.

Hall is an insurance agent for US Health Advisors and will be president of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce in 2017.

He was recommended for the appointment by the current EDC Board, and fills a one-year unexpired term of Debby Norman.

The Council also approved the reappointment of members on the Parks & Recreation Board. Mary Lyn Jones, Mike Wilson and Debra Brown were reappointed to two-year terms.

Members of the Planning & Zoning Commission were also reappointed to two-year terms. The Council affirmed Chris Pezold, Cheryl New and David Widmer.

Following a one-hour executive session to discuss the annual evaluation of Boatright, the Council took no action in open meeting. However, several had positive comments to share about the city administrator’s performance.

“The City is enjoying so much prosperity now and Greg has been right at the heart of that,” the Mayor said.

Rhea said Boatright had helped change “the culture” of city government.

“Two and one-half years ago, the culture was completely different,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from you. You lead from the front, and I’m behind you and I know the whole council is behind you.”

“Greg has been the catalyst for all of the positive change here,” added Council Member Troy Whitehead.

Also Monday, the Council approved:
– A recommendation of the EDC Board to award a Facade & Sign Matching Grant in the amount of $5,500 to the Liberty Hill Masonic Lodge.
– A resolution designating The Liberty Hill Independent as its official newspaper for purposes of advertising in fiscal 2016-2017.

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