Council adopts budget, lowers tax rate, issues tax notes

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By SARAH SILBERSTEIN

Members of the Liberty Hill City Council voted Monday to adopt the budget for fiscal 2016 by a vote of 4-1.

Council Member Wendell McLeod voted no.

“I thought a whole lot about this, lost sleep on it, and everything else. I just can’t vote for the budget… I just don’t think we need it, we’re still just little Liberty Hill,” McLeod said.

“Yes, we are still a small community in Texas, but we’re facing enormous growth and we need to uphold our values and standards,” Council Member Elizabeth Branigan said in response.

As part of the newly-adopted budget, all personnel employed with the city for more than one year will receive a 3 percent salary increase. The budget also allows for the employment of two additional police officers and the purchase of new equipment for the public works and police departments.

Council members approved a tax rate increase of $0.50 per $100 property value. The adopted tax rate raises revenue from property taxes by $169,017 or 24 percent over last year. Property taxes from new properties account for an additional $206,496 in revenue to the city in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Council members voted unanimously to accept an offer from Zions Bancorporation of Salt Lake City to purchase City of Liberty Hill tax notes. A tax note is issued by a municipality to help finance current public works projects.

Zions Bancorporation came in with the lowest bid of the eight bids received last Thursday. The agreement reached between the City of Liberty Hill and Amegy Bank of Houston, a subsidiary of Zions Bancorporation, is for a tax note of $1.135 million at a tax-exempt interest rate of 1.43 percent to be repaid over seven years.

Though the City of Liberty Hill does not have a bond rating, Assistant City Administrator Amber Lewis attributed the low interest rate to “really good” past audits and financial reports.

“I think our finances have been scrutinized and scrutinized. We’re squeaky clean.” Council Member Dr. Ron Rhea said. “We’re in great, great shape.”

The closing date for the tax note is set for Sept. 29 at which time the funds will be made available to the city and payment of the fee owed to the placement agent is due. Frost Bank served as a private placement agent in organizing the agreement between the City of Liberty Hill and Zions Bancorporation and will receive a placement fee paid by the city in the amount of $3,500.

The city will add $500,000 from its own reserve fund to the $1.135 million tax note for a total of $1.635 million to be used toward “acquiring, constructing, and installing equipment for park improvements; acquiring, improving, and renovating municipal buildings and parking; and designing, constructing, and improving transportation, streets and storm drainage improvements.”

Council Member McLeod motioned to add “water system improvements” to the list of public works projects the city will undertake with the tax note funds. The improvements would allow for the checking and repairing of fire hydrants, new coating for the insides of the water towers, and for repainting the outside of the water towers. The motion passed unanimously.

City Administrator Greg Boatright said that the City has reached an agreement with Pepper Lawson Construction, LP, the contractor in charge of expansions to the wastewater treatment plant, to expedite the completion of the project. The agreement is a $500 a day bonus paid by the city to Pepper Lawson for each day the expansion project is completed ahead of schedule. The money for the bonus comes from the liquidated damages fund designed as a safety net to account for any time the contractors ran over the allotted completion time for the contract.

“With all the growth, (our wastewater treatment plant) is operating at full capacity or right there at it,” Boatright said.

Council members voted 4-1 to approve the 2016-2017 operating budget of $629,850 for the Economic Development Corporation. Council Member McLeod voted no.

The council unanimously approved a motion to expand the City of Liberty Hill’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) to acquire Caughfield Ranch, a 186.71 acre tract of land currently in the Leander ETJ.

The Monday meeting also served as a public hearing where citizens could address concerns about the proposed annexation proceeding to enlarge and extend the Liberty Hill city limits by 171.664 acres. The public hearing was opened by Mayor Connie Fuller at 6:32 p.m. and closed at 6:33 p.m. No one addressed the council during this public hearing though a second public hearing is scheduled to take place during the next city council meeting.

The next meeting of the Liberty Hill City Council will be on Monday, Sept. 26, at 6:30 p.m.

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