By SHELLY WILKISON
The City of Liberty Hill is moving forward with plans to develop a strategic partnership agreement with the Stonewall Ranch Municipal Utility District with the goal of pursuing full-purpose annexation of the neighborhood into the city.
Public hearings have been scheduled in December to provide residents with opportunities to learn more about the process and the benefits the city can provide.
City Administrator Greg Boatright told the City Council Monday that staff will bring to them Nov. 28 a financial plan for annexation of Stonewall’s municipal utility district.
“We have a lot to offer (residents there), including a reduction in the tax rate,” Boatright told The Independent after the council meeting Monday. He said property owners in Stonewall are paying a MUD tax of $0.91 per $100 value compared to the city’s ad valorem rate of $0.50 per $100 value.
Boatright said the MUD Board of Directors would be making a decision on behalf of the property owners on a partnership agreement with the City. Following December’s public hearings, the Council is expected to consider an ordinance for adoption of the agreement and annexation on Jan. 23, 2017.
Currently, Stonewall is served by Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services. Annexation into the city would reduce response times as Liberty Hill police would respond to calls for service in the neighborhood.
“Most people in Stonewall already think they live in the city of Liberty Hill, and feel connected to our community,” Boatright said. “It would be beneficial for us and for them to be able to participate in city government.”
City staff estimates there is more than $60 million in property value in the subdivision with 232 homes valued at an average $225,000. In addition, the neighborhood has as many as 900 undeveloped lots.
Boatright said the City is in discussion about the proposed agreement and annexation with developer RSI, which purchased the development out of bankruptcy from Lennar Buffington.
Public hearings on the matter are set for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. The public is welcome and will have the opportunity to make comments.
Also Monday, the Council voted 3-1 to approve the creation of a position for a Utility Customer Service Representative. The position was funded in the current budget, but the item was tabled at the last council meeting.
Boatright said the position is needed to assist with receptionist duties and utility billing. Council member Wendell McLeod cast the no vote.
The Council also approved recommendations by the Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors to allocate up to $4,700 as a sponsorship for the Liberty Hill Christmas Festival, and $225 to purchase a Blue Santa suit for Liberty Hill Police Department.
Pastor Michael Wright of Fellowship Church, who is chairing a committee of festival volunteers as president of the Ministerial Alliance, attended the Council meeting and requested the funds that he said would be used for community relations/marketing, event logistics, kids activities and awards.
According to a city ordinance on event sponsorships, organizers must present receipts for reimbursement up to the allocated amount.
On a sponsorship application submitted to the EDC, Wright said the economic impact of the event on the local economy “is in the 10’s of thousands.”
The Christmas Festival is Dec. 3-4 at Lions Foundation Park. It includes as parade through downtown on Dec. 4, as well as craft and food vendors both days, live music, a car show, Santa Claus and activities for children.
Also this week, the Council approved an amendment to the Unified Development Code allowing gravel, decomposed granite and pavers as acceptable materials on parking lots in the downtown area. The Planning & Zoning Commission voted last week to recommend the change.
On a related item, the Council voted to table until February consideration of a lease agreement with downtown business owner Jerry Casebolt to lease property behind his building for a public parking lot. Under the terms of the current proposal, the City would be required to build the parking lot and enter a one-year lease with Casebolt for $5,000.
Mayor Connie Fuller said Casebolt, a chiropractor, is planning to sell his building and the land behind it in one year, and if the city was in a lease, it could have the first opportunity to purchase the property.
“It’s possible we could do all that investing (in parking lot construction) and he would not renew (the lease),” said Councilman Ron Rhea.
Boatright said it could cost the city $18,000 or more to construct the parking lot.
City staff estimated that without the Casebolt property, there will be about 60 public parking spaces downtown after a drainage improvement project is completed near the Fellowship Annex building on Myrtle Lane.
“I don’t like the idea of putting money into a lot for only one year when it could take half a year to get it done,” added Council member Liz Rundzieher.
“If we have 60-70 (spaces) without this, my feeling is to table this (proposed lease agreement) to see what happens with traffic downtown. Let’s see if we have enough traffic downtown to justify that expense,” Rhea added.
There was discussion about property owners’ obligation to provide parking for customers.
“We need cooperation from landowners downtown,” said Boatright. “So far it’s been like pulling teeth just to get them to mow. Instead of the onus being on the city, we should share this with private land owners. It’s not on the public to solve all their parking problems. It’s a two-way street.”
Also Monday, the Council voted to allow police officers to be reimbursed up to $75 every two years for purchase of work boots as part of their uniform.