Council debates city salaries, approves change to LUEs

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The City Council approved a $500 monthly stipend for the mayor, set to begin in January 2018. Current Mayor Connie Fuller (left) works a full-time job as a real estate agent in addition to her duties with the city. Seated at the dais with her Monday were Council members Troy Whitehead (center) and Liz Rundzieher (right). (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

In this week’s City Council meeting, restaurants saw their one-time wastewater connection fees effectively halved, a re-evaluation of city salaries could soon be underway, the Council hired Lance Dean to run the Economic Development Corp., and a stipend for the mayor was set at $500 a month.

The public hearing for the annexation of Stonewall Ranch and the municipal utility district inside it was postponed until June 12.

City salaries up for potential survey

An evaluation and re-writing of city employee salaries may soon be in the works. Council passed a measure to have the city seek out third-party firms that would conduct a comparison of Liberty Hill city salaries with other municipalities.

City staff is to present their findings for a firm at the next Council meeting on March 27.

The discussion began as a proposal from Council Member Liz Rundzieher, who said that Liberty Hill’s police are taking home “welfare totals,” and needed a raise.

That point rolled into a more general discussion on city staff salaries, and the need to identify which employee positions were the least paid for the most risk and labor.

Rundzieher said that the police carry the most risk, but, in agreement with city officials, that the entire payroll requires evaluation.

Included in the meeting agenda packet was a table displaying the salaries of city employees in surrounding towns, including Georgetown, Leander and Marble Falls. In all categories, Liberty Hill had the lowest pay.

Police officers, for instance, have a salary of $37,132.32 in Liberty Hill. In Marble Falls, the same position carries a $41,887 salary.

Councilman Wendell McLeod said it “seemed odd” that Liberty Hill should be compared to larger cities such as Georgetown and Leander.

City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann said that the figures are still relevant, since Liberty Hill competes with these municipalities for recruitments. Additionally, she said, Liberty Hill is in a unique situation because it has more municipal utility districts.

Rundzieher added that Marble Falls has a comparable population, with still greater salaries.

Mayor Connie Fuller said that she would like to see Marble Falls as an eventual standard for Liberty Hill’s pay scales.

Members of the EDC Board, three of whom were in the audience, volunteered to conduct an evaluation of city salaries.

City Administrator Greg Boatright cautioned them that because the evaluation would affect departments they see every day, differences in pay could translate into tensions between departments and toward the EDC. This is especially important, he said, because the EDC’s President Lance Dean will soon be entering City Hall as an employee.

Boatright said that during his time as County Commissioner for Williamson County, they hired a third party to conduct a salary re-evaluation. He said the decision was the “best we ever made,” and significantly boosted county morale.

The Council voted to have the city search for third-party firms to do the salary survey. They will present their findings at the next session.

Mayor Connie Fuller thanked the EDC Board for volunteering to do the research, but said that the Council acted on the recommendation of city administrative staff.

Required LUEs halved for restaurants

Council voted to raise the square feet per LUE from 350 square feet to 700. The change only affects incoming restaurants, and does not affect patio space, which is still defined at 1,000 square feet per LUE.

LUEs are “living unit equivalents,” and represent the expected wastewater of a given commercial space. Businesses moving into town must pay for every LUE as a one-time connection fee.

Boatright had first proposed a change in the previous City Council meeting.

At that time, the increase in square footage had been coupled with a cap on the total amount of LUEs a business would need to pay for. The cap would have cut off the maximum LUEs at four, meaning that the fee would level off for restaurants at 2,800 square feet and above.

The proposal was not approved in the previous session because of concerns that the cap disproportionately benefitted large national chains, which are more likely than small local businesses to have premises over 2,800 square feet.

Mayor Pro Tem Liz Branigan reaffirmed Monday the need for that amendment to the proposal.

“We’re gonna get large national companies anyway. This little advantage is not going to help recruit them. It will give them an advantage over smaller users,” said Branigan, who added that the city needs more “mom and pop” restaurants.

From the audience, EDC Vice President Eric Van Natter argued that Margarita’s has a space over 7,000 square feet, and is locally owned.

McLeod disagreed with the removal of the cap from the proposal.

McLeod said that because actual water usage is not directly factored in to LUE costs, it is unfair to charge some more than others.

“We’ve got to treat everyone the same,” he said.

City officials and other Council members argued that space does correlate with usage.

The motion passed 3-1, with McLeod casting the lone vote against.

Dean hired as EDC Executive Director

The Council voted to hire Lance Dean as the new Executive Director for the City’s Economic Development Corp., which oversees the recruitment of businesses to the area.

Dean, who currently serves as the EDC’s President, was submitted to the Council as a candidate after a special EDC Board meeting last week. He is the first to fill the paid position after first serving as a Council-appointed volunteer on the EDC Board.

Three members of the EDC Board were present to speak in favor of Dean — Bill Chapman, Rick Hall and Van Natter.

Chapman said that Dean fit their requirements for a “well-educated, executive kind of guy.”

The EDC Board had unanimously put Dean forward as their candidate.

The other members present highlighted Dean’s business experience consulting international and high-profile clients, his graduation from St. Edward’s Magna Cum Laude, and the fact that he lives in Liberty Hill.

“Dean’s a diplomatic guy,” Chapman said before joking, “a little soft spoken, but we’re working on that.”

Dean was not present Monday because of a family vacation planned months in advance. Chapman said that Dean hesitated whether to cancel it and attend the meeting, but that the EDC encouraged him to continue with his existing plans.

“We drafted him for this (job). He didn’t sign up,” Chapman said.

Pending an employment contract to be written, Dean will start March 27. The budgeted salary for the position is $70,000.

Mayor to receive monthly $500 stipend

Beginning in January 2018, Liberty Hill’s mayor will receive a $500 stipend every month.

Branigan put the motion forward.

“We have a beautiful city hall. We have a number of paid staff to animate it. We have a large lovely office for our mayor,” she said. “It occurred to me that we should encourage her to occupy it.”

The stipend would go into effect in 2018.

Fuller has a full-time job as a local real estate agent in addition to performing her duties as mayor, and currently collects no benefits except compensation for travel and related expenses.

“As we become a bigger city, it’s becoming a bigger job,” Branigan said.

A list compared the stipends that the mayor and council members of surrounding towns receive.

“I’m opposed to that right now, unless they pay me $2,000 or $3,000 a month,” said McLeod, jokingly. “We’re a lot smaller than almost all of these.”

Branigan also said the stipend would expand the candidates for mayor, and McLeod again disagreed in saying this might attract the “wrong” candidates.

Branigan initially proposed a monthly stipend of $1,000, but the measure ultimately passed set the amount at $500. The final vote was introduced by Rundzieher and seconded by Councilman Troy Whitehead.

McLeod cast the only vote in opposition.

Mayor Fuller said to the Council, “I thank you for that— if I ever get it.”

The next election for Mayor is May 2018.

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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