Council hears report on salary study

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By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

Burnet, Marble Falls and Jonestown are the City of Liberty Hill’s three closest competitors when it comes to employee salaries, according to a report from consulting firm Ray & Associates.

The consulting firm was contracted in April to assess the payroll for the city’s 23 employees, which are classified in 18 job titles. Their recommendations will help determine updates to the positions to ensure that they are paid “fairly and competitively,” as their initial proposal described it.

The 10 cities on the list function as “benchmarks” for Liberty Hill due their similarity, and will form the baseline market value that the firm will aim for in their recommendations.

The firm’s president, Katherine Ray, was present Monday to present the list to Council, and to ask if any cities should be added.

The Council voted to add Hutto and Lampasas, and to pursue salary recommendations that would put Liberty Hill in the middle of the market.

The 10 cities in the original list were: (1) Burnet, (2) Marble Falls, (3) Jonestown, (4) Bastrop, (5) Dripping Springs, (6) Leander, (7) Lago Vista, (8) Georgetown, (9) Buda, and (10) Cedar Park.

The greatest emphasis was placed on whether the other cities provided similar services, the city’s location relative to a major highway, and geographic proximity to the city of Liberty Hill.

Other factors included a consideration of those within range of the city’s operating budget, ad valorem net taxable value, median household income, and growth rate.

Ray said that Liberty Hill is not easily categorized, since its service area is much larger than its city limits. Liberty Hill reportedly has less than 1,000 in its city limits, but roughly 35,000 in its service area, she said.

She said that Jarrell was actually the third most similar to Liberty Hill under their matrix, but it was removed because the city only employs seven people, several of whom are part time.

Some members of Council raised questions about the list.

Member Liz Rundzieher said that she noticed a large difference in the number of employees between them.

Ray said that many cities with comparable water and wastewater employees to Liberty Hill are much larger.

Councilmember Wendell McLeod wanted to know why Leander and Georgetown were on the list, when they have thousands more in population than Liberty Hill.

Ray said that these cities are within 30 miles, and that cities in that range are “your direct competitors, whether you know it or not.”

City Administrator Greg Boatright recommended Hutto be added, and Councilman Jon Branigan suggested Lampasas. Both were added to the list after short discussion.

In July, the firm will be contacting these cities for copies of their job descriptions and associated salaries and benefits.

This will be used to help analyze the firm’s internal review of Liberty Hill’s staff positions, which began with an employee questionnaire that was distributed last week.

The internal review takes into consideration the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications associated with the position. The study does not evaluate the performance of the employee.

The internal comparison is important, Ray said, because cities don’t always match in the responsibilities involved in every position.

The firm expects to finalize its data collection by August, and prepare preliminary transition schedules to Council by the end of September.

Ray & Associates to look for City’s new Finance Officer

The city is seeking to use the firm as a recruiter for a new finance officer, and Council voted to authorize Boatright to negotiate and execute an amended contract with them.

The position of finance officer remains vacant after Amber Lewis resigned in May to become the city administrator in Rollingwood, an Austin suburb.

The City has so far received “five or six” applications for the job, Boatright said, but only one has had relevant experience. He said that after an interview with that applicant, he and the Mayor agreed that professional services could help broaden the search.

The hope, Boatright said, is that Ray & Associates would be able to leverage their experience working with so many municipalities.

The agreement Boatright will pursue will have them rewrite a job description and determine a salary range that would attract qualified applicants.

It is a particular important time to have a finance officer, Boatright said, because budget time is approaching as well as the city’s annual audit.

The measure passed 3-0. The only vote in opposition came from McLeod, who said, “We pay thousands and thousands on consultants, and we’re going overboard.”

Following an executive session behind closed doors, the Council reconvened into a regular session to also authorize Boatright to pursue negotiations that would hire an interim Finance Officer. Pay for the position was stipulated to not exceed the current budget amount.

Boatright said he had someone in mind, who is a certified public accountant and previously helped the City transition to its new payroll software.

Stopgap improvements to existing wastewater plant
Council approved the proposed construction of minor improvements to the City’s existing wastewater treatment plant on the South San Gabriel River.

The two additional blowers and piping come with a $145,794 price tag, and will be added officially as a change in the work order for Pepper-Lawson, the construction firm responsible for the plant’s expansion.

Aaron Laughlin from Steger Bizzell engineering firm briefed the Council on the improvements, which he described as a bridge between the current plant’s facilities and the coming expansion.

The two blowers will add to the plant’s existing two blowers, and will specifically help the plant combat ammonia loading in its daily volume.

The plant was designed to have a maximum capacity for five blowers.

In Other Business, the Council:
– Approved Chad Pirtle as the newest director on the Economic Development Corp. Board. Pirtle is an assistant superintendent for the Liberty Hill ISD. He fills a vacancy left by Lance Dean, who was hired in March to act as the EDC Executive Director.
– Agreed that the Downtown Art Exhibit June 16 was a success. City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann, who was a principal organizer along many others, requested the Council table an agenda item about the event that would have placed it in June for the next few years. She said the organizers wanted to consider different dates in the coming years when it would not be so hot.
– Approved five different final plats for subdivisions, adding hundreds of lot plans to the city’s limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction. Phases 2B, 2C and 2D were approved for Orchard Ridge, which had a total of 744 lots in its preliminary plat. Section 5 of Stonewall Ranch was approved for 32 lots. Phase 2 of Caughfield Ranch was approved for 115 lots.
– Was briefed by engineering consultant Pix Howell on ongoing capital improvement projects, such as the master plans for drainage, transportation, and parks. Howell said that in a meeting with all of the City’s consultants last week, they agreed to attend a public open house. Firm dates are forthcoming, but preliminary talks would put it on July 27. An open workshop could be held days earlier on July 24.
After the meeting, Mayor Connie Fuller confirmed that Police Chief Maverick Campbell will still officially act as chief following a vehicle collision last week where he sustained serious injuries. Lt. Jeff Ringstaff will act in an interim role until Campbell recovers.
– Councilmember Ron Rhea continued his absence on Monday due to health issues.

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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