Council hears more opposition to involuntary annexation plan
By SHELLY WILKISON
While many of the comments expressed at Monday’s public hearing on the City of Liberty Hill’s proposed annexation of 313 acres echoed those from the week prior, the tone had become more harsh.
Don Bebee, a resident on Independence Drive that is proposed for inclusion in the city limits, said “involuntary annexation is the lawlessness of taxation without representation.”
Although once annexed into the city, residents will have the opportunity to vote in city elections, those impacted by the City Council’s decision this month to annex the property do not have a vote.
Instead, property owners have had the opportunity in two public hearings to express their views and ask questions of city staff as to how they will be impacted.
Commercial and residential property owners in 127 parcels of land are part of the city’s first attempt to use its legal ability to involuntary annex property since its incorporation in 1999. Those who oppose the plan have been complaining about higher taxes and costly impact fees to connect to city sewer.
Potential costs to property owners include ad valorem tax, which would be assessed beginning Jan. 1, 2016. At the rate of $0.527842 per $100 valuation, the owner of a property valued at $200,000, for example, will pay $1,056 in taxes to the City of Liberty Hill.
In addition to property taxes, owners of annexed property that establish a connection to city sewer will pay impact fees ranging from $3,500 for a residence to $4,500 and up for commercial property based on the conversion of one LUE per 3,000 square feet of space. A different conversion applies to restaurant space.
Once connected to sewer, a residence is billed $44 per month for service and a commercial property is billed $54 per LUE per month.
City Manager Greg Boatright clarified for property owners again on Monday that a sewer connection is not required as long as the property’s septic system is in good working order. If it fails, the property will be required to connect to city sewer.
“If you put this up to a vote (of the property owners impacted), most would vote against it,” one resident said. “You gave us no notice and it’s unfair for Liberty Hill to do this.”
Another resident asked the Council to consider waiting a year before proceeding.
“The kind thing to do would be to give people a year to prepare for this,” she said. “In three months, I can’t plan for a new $1,200 expense in my budget.”
The City Attorney explained that the law gives the city 90 days to complete the process. The Council is set to vote on the issue Oct. 12. If the annexation ordinance is approved, it takes effect immediately and the city’s service plan is immediate. The City would have two and one-half to four and one-half years to complete any promised infrastructure projects.
Business owner Laura Collins said she was offended by Boatright’s comment last week that commercial property owners along State Highway 29 that are not already in the city are not paying their fair share.
“Our water bills have tripled since the city took over our water. Our business does contribute. This town is filled with small business owners trying to make a living,” she said.
Boatright said the parcels included in the proposed annexation have access now to city sewer that in-city property owners continue to pay for with ad valorem taxes that go toward that debt payment. The parcels also have access to city water, and share a contiguous boundary with the city. With those conditions present, state law allows a municipality to annex the property without the consent of the property owner.
Boatright said once the property is officially in the city, a study will be done to determine the actual costs of running sewer lines on Independence Drive where residents there will have the option to connect.
Some have been critical that the City has not provided actual costs of making the service available, but Boatright explained money will not be spent on a study until the property is in the city.
“The success of your business depends on your location,” he said. “Having a location in the city makes it more successful than if you’re out 10 miles. There is a price to be paid for location.”
Liberty Parke PID
In other business Monday, the Council adopted a resolution giving approval of a petition for the creation of the Liberty Parke Public Improvement District (PID) and set a public hearing on the issue Oct. 26.
Liberty Parke, a 140-acre neighborhood currently under construction on SH 29 near Classic Bank, recently added an adjacent 78 acres that was to be Liberty Meadows. Construction on the first homes will began after the first of the year.
Previously, Boatright said the PID debt, projected to be about $4.5 million, would be specific to Liberty Parke. Property owners there would be assessed a fee that could be rolled into their mortgage or paid outright.
The creation of a PID could mean an additional $750,000 for the City that would be used to create water infrastructure, Boatright said.
City administration building
Also Monday, the Council gave unanimous approval to a timeline and construction plan for the new City administration building at 926 Loop 332.
A building at the location will be demolished and new construction will begin in February 2016. The architect estimated that the 4,000-square-foot building would be complete 10 months later.
Following a 40-minute executive session, the Council voted unanimously to approve a three-year employment contract for Boatright.
The salary increases 3 percent to $84,872 with $20,000 of that paid by the Economic Development Corp. Boatright also receives a $500 per month car allowance and $50 per month stipend for cell phone use.
In other matters, the Council approved the appointment of Debra Brown to the Parks & Recreation Board effective in November. She replaces Councilmember Elizabeth Branigan, who Mayor Connie Fuller then appointed as a consultant to the committee.
The Council previously voted to reappoint Branigan to the Board despite an ordinance that stated council members could not be appointed to boards and commissions. Councilman Wendell McLeod challenged the move and the panel agreed to allow her to serve until a qualified replacement was found.
Brown runs a local child care center and is McLeod’s daughter. Because the committee is advisory in nature, the City Attorney said there is no conflict.