Council hears city department budget requests, proceeds with involuntary annexation plans

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill City Council members have begun the process of working through funding requests from city department heads for fiscal 2015, and are considering an 8 percent increase in the tax rate for maintenance and operations.

The proposed rate of $0.527842 per $100 property value will add $7.43 to the tax bill of a property owner with a $100,000 home.

The increase in the M&O rate will generate $29,903 more in revenue for the City.

Chief Financial Officer Amber Lewis told elected officials Monday during the first of three budget workshops that the total tax rate will generate $643,471 for city coffers — most of which is used to pay sewer debt.

“Eighty-five percent of the budget is for sewer. We only have $100,000 after sewer debt,” Lewis said.

The City receives the bulk of its revenue from the sales tax, which is projected to generate 9 percent more in fiscal 2015. The proposed budget projects $542,820 in sales tax revenue.

Additional income is earned from a combination of franchise fees, charges for services including wastewater treatment plant operations and permits.

Lewis said the financial documents presented to Council during Monday’s workshop do not represent a balanced budget.

“Expenses exceed income right now, but we wanted to present all the information to you to help us prioritize,” she said, adding the final plan will be balanced.

Department heads were present Monday to discuss their funding requests. However, the workshop was cut short due to other council business. Only Police Chief Randy Williams and Municipal Court Clerk Tracy Musch and Lewis addressed the panel. The next workshop is scheduled August 24.

Chief Williams is seeking to add two new officer positions, which will allow the police department to keep longer hours. The department is not a 24-hour department and Liberty Hill relies on coverage from Williamson County Sheriff’s Office when LHPD is not available.

“The Sheriff’s Office is down 15 people, and they don’t do preventive patrols,” he said, adding that more officers for LHPD would allow more thorough coverage during deep night shifts.

The department is also requesting three additional patrol vehicles, for a total department budget of $675,000 — a 20 percent increase from the current year’s budget.

Chief Williams, who has been with the City 10 years, bypassed pay raises many years to make funds available for his officers. In the new budget year, he is seeking a 6 percent increase, and requesting a 3 percent step pay increase for patrol officers.

Musch, who may be relocated to City Hall to serve in the role as Assistant City Secretary while keeping her duties as Municipal Court Clerk, is seeking a 28 percent increase in funding for the Court in fiscal 2015.

The increase is requested in the areas of salary and training. Lewis said placing Musch into the role of Associate Judge would allow her to sign warrants saving some outsourcing and contractual expenses.

Additional funds are also in the court’s request for improvements and maintenance to the court building, as well as technology and security equipment.

During a Special Meeting convened following Monday’s workshop, the Council voted unanimously to proceed with involuntary annexation procedures on about 300 acres of land that are already partially inside the city limits and customers of city utilities.

Planning Director Jim Bechtol, who has vacated his position but was present Monday to facilitate the discussion, said about 123 parcels will be impacted by the annexation.

City Attorney Elizabeth Elleson explained that a new law, which took effect in June, requires that if an area to be annexed is 50 percent or more commercial or industrial, the city must have the written consent of the majority of those property owners for the annexation to occur.

Bechtol disagreed on how “area” is defined suggesting that “area” would be the entire amount of property being annexed rather than individual areas of parcels.

“I think the law was directed toward more of a malicious annexation,” Bechtol said. “Our purpose is that they are using our utilities already, and these are remnant pieces. Annexing them is part of city growth, and they are already getting our utilities.”

Boatright warned there could be a political outfall as is the case with all cities’ attempts at involuntary annexation. Councilmember Ron Rhea countered that there could be political consequences if the Council fails to annex the property.

This will be the first time Liberty Hill has attempted to involuntary annex property.

Property owners will be notified by mail of the pending annexation and will have opportunities in September to address the Council during public hearings on the matter.

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