Council approves budget, tax rate

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The City Council unanimously approved the fiscal 2020-21 budget and tax rate Monday — lowering the tax rate while increasing the General Fund budget by 33 percent.

There were two people who spoke on the budget during the public hearing, both questioning the budget increase.

“I have no problem with the tax rate, I do with the budget,” said Liberty Hill business owner Bob Balzen. “I probably pay more property taxes than most of the people in this room, but I can’t vote. I think the budget increase is way too much. Adding a bunch of positions, I don’t think they’re necessary. I don’t know what positions they are, but if we didn’t have them before how were we getting everything done? Seems to me everything has been getting done as far as I know. I would vote against increasing the budget this much. I’m for small government and I think big government gets to be bad government.”

Also speaking was former Liberty Hill Planning Director Sally McFeron, who identified herself as being with the Better Together Project, a recently formed political action committee in Liberty Hill.

“This is no doubt a very robust budget for the City of Liberty Hill,” she said. “It is a tremendous increase in terms of salaried positions.”

She went on to ask the Council if the fiscal and budgetary policy adopted in 2018 was followed, specifically in regard to the use of non-recurring revenue. Previous councils and City administration emphasized not using non-recurring revenues such as fees to fund new positions or recurring operational costs.

“The increase for operations in the proposed budget I do believe requires non-recurring revenues, i.e. development fees,” she said.

No one on the Council responded to McFeron’s question on the revenues and expenses.

The approved budget includes nine new positions above what was approved last September. That approved budget added 18 positions to a staff that previously totaled 37. The City now has 63 total positions, and a general fund budget of $5.68 million, compared to $4.24 million last year.

While the increase in expenses is dramatic, it does not include a tax rate increase. The proposed tax rate of $0.454559 per $100 valuation is a rate reduction.

While the City has touted the rate reduction, under new rules set by the Legislature, it is not a decision truly in the hands of the Council.

Due to changes mandated by Senate Bill 2, passed during the 2019 state legislative session, allowable revenue increases for Texas cities has been cut by more than 50 percent. The new proposed rate is the highest rate allowed without Liberty Hill voter approval.

Across all funds (general and enterprise funds), salaries are projected at $3.68 million, up $486,971 over current budgeted salaries.

Not only is that total considerably higher than the current budget, the actual salary expense for the City this year was much lower due to staffing changes and unfilled positions.

The $100,000 in salaries approved last year for the Mayor and Council members was again included in the new budget. None of those costs were realized in the current budget due to the delay of the May election. After the November election, the $40,000 salary for the mayor’s position will take effect, and the monthly $1,000 salary for Council members Kathy Canady and Tony DeYoung will begin as neither were opposed in their bid for reelection.

Salaries for the administrative department increased more than $200,000, even after the planning department, City Council and property maintenance departments were separated out.

Salaries for the police department are up $103,560 over the current budget and are projected to increase $327,326 over actual expenditures this year.

Fifteen of the City’s employees fall under the wastewater and water funds, totaling $813,500 in salary expenses.

About a third of the property tax rate is for debt service. The Interest and Sinking (I&S) – or debt service – portion of the total proposed tax rate of $0.454559 is $0.145096.

The debt service included in the proposed budget is $647,075, and that stems from two outstanding tax notes.

Cost increases
The City Council approved change orders to a pair of projects, increasing their costs by a combined $51,757.

The first change includes an additional $42,157 for the current downtown street and utility project. The new funds will cover changes at the parking lot across from Wetzel Park including the additional disposal of an old water well, upgraded hand rails, additional tree removal, additional water service connections, additional electrical work, an ADA accessible ramp, and the removal of 90 feet of 8-foot-wide sidewalk.

The original contract price on the downtown street and utility project was $1.55 million and is now at $1.859 million.

The second is a change to a previous contract through the Community Development Block Grant Program for phase two of the sidewalk improvements program that adds $9,600 for parking work at the Stubblefield Building. The entire project was originally $178,241 and has now reached $201,336.

Plat approval
The Council gave approval to the Omega Ranch preliminary plat, a 147-acre tract located just east of Kaufman Loop near the intersection of SH 29 and Ronald Reagan Boulevard. The land is part of 223 acres absorbed into the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction in March. A portion will be in Municipal Utility District 23 and will be residential, with the remaining 77 acres intended for future commercial development to remain in the ETJ and eventually be annexed into the City.

It is a MA Partners LLC development by Wyatt Henderson.

MUD debate
The Council chose not to approve a resolution to create a new Municipal Utility District (MUD) on 223 acres south of Liberty Hill, within the City’ ETJ, on the west side of CR 279.

Council members questioned the purpose of the proposed MUD and what its ultimate purpose would be, before deciding they would like to hear from the property owner on the issue before approval.

Andy Barrett, the lawyer representing property owner Winston Krause, said there is no current plan for development.

“In the future he may wish to subdivide and develop the property,” Barrett told the Council. “He has no plans to do that as of yet.”

Canady asked why the Council would create something on a “maybe”.

“Because it’s his property and he’s asking for it,” Barrett replied. “The other reason is because he’d like to get that done and get that entitlement ahead of time so if the decision is made in the future then it’s already in place, so he’s trying to plan ahead instead of coming in all at once.”

The creation of a MUD is a legislative matter, but Barrett said lawmakers prefer to have local approval as well in the creation of the new district.

The request is expected to be on the next agenda for consideration again, and Barrett said he will facilitate communication between Council members with questions and Krause between now and then or at that meeting.

Community Clean Up
The City has set four days for the Fall Community Clean Up in October. Curbside pickup will be available Oct. 21-23 with drop off beginning at 8 a.m. Oct. 24 at 3414 RR 1869.

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