Council adopts budget, sets tax rate

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By SHELLY WILKISON

The Liberty Hill City Council adopted a $1.8 million budget for fiscal 2014, which includes a 3 percent pay increase for employees, while keeping the tax rate at the current $0.53426 per $100 of property value.

Because of increased property values within the city boundaries, the current tax rate is expected to generate $16,641 more in revenue, which made the decision eligible for a rollback petition from voters. However, no one protested during public hearings held on the matter and no one spoke to the issue Monday.

The Council voted unanimously to approve the budget and tax rate, but Councilmember Elizabeth Branigan suggested that the Council consider offering property owners a tax rebate in fiscal 2015.

According to budget documents approved Monday, the City is anticipating additional revenues in the form of fees paid for development agreements by new subdivisions as well as fees paid by developers for parkland. Sales tax revenue is also projected to increase.

Expenses in the General Fund will increase about $500,000 under the new budget.

Salaries will increase at least 3 percent for most employees, with police officers earning more in some cases as a result of the adoption of a salary schedule intended to make the department more competitive with salaries offered by similar agencies.

The police department budget for 2014 is more than $100,000 higher than fiscal 2013. In addition to pay increases for officers, the department was allotted funds for two replacement patrol vehicles, 13 new stun guns, an evidence safe and gun safe, new uniforms and badges.

Following a one-hour executive session Monday, the Council voted unanimously to extend City Manager Greg Boatright’s contract and increase his salary by 3 percent or about $2,400 to $92,487 with benefits. The City’s Economic Development Corp. pays $50,000 of that total. The new contract also will include an increase in his car allowance from $350 to $500 per month, as well as a $50 stipend for cell phone expenses.

“You (Boatright) have brought in so much revenue for the city, you’ve changed the image of the city, and we’re excited about the staff you have brought on and the increase in (residential) developments,” said Mayor Connie Fuller. “We all agreed how foolish we would be for you not to have compensation for that.”

The Council also unanimously adopted the budget for the Economic Development Corp., which was previously approved by that panel. With projected revenues at more than $945,000, the budget includes allocation for $13,000 for a Liberty Hill TV commercial, $50,000 for new business development, $100,000 for downtown enhancement grants, $35,000 for the sculpture garden, $15,000 for the Christmas Festival and Liberty Hill Pro Rodeo hosted by Williamson County Cowboy Church. In fiscal 2014, the EDC projects to spend $315,600.

The complete budget, including spending plans for water, sewer and wastewater treatment plant funds will be posted on the City’s website at www.lhtexas.com.

With all members present Monday, the Council also approved resolutions giving notice of intent to finance capital improvements to the water supply and the wastewater treatment plant.

The City intends to issue Certificates of Obligation to finance construction of water lines along Bagdad Road that will bring water to Liberty Hill from the City of Leander. The project, which is projected for completion in 2016, will cost an estimated $2.5 million.

“These bonds offer the lender pledges of taxes and revenue and the city gets better interest rates,” said Chris Lane, the City’s financial advisor from SAMCO Capital Markets, Inc.

With unanimous approval from the Council, Ms. Lane will immediately begin communicating with banks to generate interest in the project.

When it comes to capital improvements to increase water resources, Ms. Lane said the debt falls completely on the City, thus the importance of utilizing Certificates of Obligation to obtain the lowest interest rates possible.

She reminded the Council that in 2011, some voters signed petitions opposing the City’s decision to use CO’s to connect two newly-constructed water wells to the existing water system. As a result of the protest, the City was forced to pay more in interest at a rate that was 1 percent higher than what it could have qualified for otherwise, she said.

The signed petitions were submitted to the City by Jamie Williamson, who at the time owned a local publication and in 2012 was elected Mayor. Mrs. Williamson was defeated for a second term in 2014.

“This is the only city it (a petition challenging the COs) ever happened at in my career,” said Ms. Lane.

In addition to adopting COs for water improvements Monday, the Council also approved a resolution giving notice of intent to finance expansion of the Liberty Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant. The $10 million project will allow the city to treat more wastewater as a result of significant population growth within its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

Unlike the water line construction project, the wastewater debt can be shared among the municipal utility districts (MUDs) that use the plant through contracts with the City. In the end, the City will be responsible for 10 percent of the debt.

“All (MUDs) will pay their share of the debt based on their LUEs (living unit equivalents or number of households),” Ms. Lane said.

In other business Monday, the Council unanimously approved the concept plan and preliminary plat for Phase One of Morningstar, a proposed subdivision that will be located on State Highway 29 and Ronald Reagan Blvd. The documents received the preliminary approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission Sept. 16.

Morningstar will be located on 530 acres between Kauffman Loop on the west to Cross Creek on the east. Ultimately, it will include 1,000 single family homes and 200 multi-family units, as well as property set aside for parkland and commercial development. Developers anticipate the first lots to be ready for delivery in August 2015.

The Council also approved a conditional use permit for Chris Pezold to place a manufactured home in the downtown Commercial Retail District at 3603 RR 1869. He said the home will be used as a residence. The permit was recommended for approval by the P&Z last week. Although he abstained from voting on the recommendation, Pezold is a member of the panel.

The Council reappointed Pezold to the P&Z Commission Monday and replaced member Bill Soja with Bill Chapman.

On the Parks & Recreation Board, the Council appointed Richard Marshall, president of the Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association, and reappointed Mary Lynn Jones and Michael Wilson.

The Council also adopted a resolution designating The Liberty Hill Independent as the City’s official newspaper for the purpose of publication of city notices.

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