Council raises water rates

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Area residents will soon see an increase in wastewater rates after the Liberty Hill City Council voted Monday to approve a rate hike.

The measure passed by a 2-1 vote with one seat open following the passing of Council Member Wendell McLeod and the absence of Troy Whitehead. Council Members Ron Rhea and Liz Branigan voted for and Liz Rundzieher voted against the proposal.

The new rate for in-city residential customers will be $49.67, an increase of $5.32. That rate is now scheduled to increase $5.96 in January 2020.

The rate for residential customers outside the city will increase to $53.93, up $5.78 over the current rate. The residential rate outside the city will increase again to $60.40 in January 2020.

New rates should go into effect in the next billing cycle.

The new rate didn’t come without some protest, as one of the four Municipal Utility Districts served by Liberty Hill – MUD 13, which is the Stonewall Subdivision – had a lawyer at the meeting Monday to address the Council.

The lawyer cited provisions in a 2007 agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority and claimed the City and Willdan Financial Services had failed to provide requested information regarding the recent rate study and findings.

During the meeting, City Administrator Greg Boatright defended the increase.

“I think that we have done our due diligence as far as the rate study is concerned,” Boatright said. “One of the things that I agreed that we would do is look at a rate study for the impact fees and look at phasing out the monthly charge we currently collect from the MUDs. I am comfortable with the discussions I have had with the other MUDs.”

After the meeting, he disputed the lawyer’s claims and said the other three MUDs in question were satisfied.

“What I’m hopeful of is the compromise I reached with the other MUD representatives that we will look at the monthly charge and seriously consider phasing that out,” he said.

The compromise came in the form of a new agreement with Willdan Financial Services to do an impact fee study and look closely at the monthly charge levied on the MUDs, which totals about $17,000, divided among the four districts.

“As a part of the impact fee study, we also want Willdan to make a recommendation back to Council how we can phase out the monthly charge to the MUDs,” Boatright said.

The study will cost the City $35,000.

MUD 13 still has the option of further protesting the rate change if it chooses.

“If they go back to their board and their board says ‘we’re just not going to stand for this’ then there are avenues they can go through to take us to task over that rate,” Boatright said. “But it is a minimal rate increase and they made some statements up here that are inaccurate. They were referring to a document and agreement that has expired. We’re basically operating without an agreement.”

The City currently has 833 water customers and 4,993 wastewater customers, but there has been talk of Liberty Hill negotiating with Georgetown to take over many of the water accounts that are within the City’s wastewater service area. No agreement is in place.

On the wastewater side, Liberty Hill has added just over 1,900 accounts since 2016 and is projected to be at over 13,000 by 2028, more than three times the current total.

The capital improvement plan driving the rate increase includes $61 million in wastewater improvements.

Rodeo funding
After the Liberty Hill Fair & Rodeo went in early February to the Economic Development Corporation and City Council seeking sponsorship funds for this year’s event, a number of questions were raised about who should be approving such funds and whether the Rodeo was eligible.

The impasse has been solved and the Council voted 3-0 Monday to approve a $10,000 one-time contribution to the Rodeo.

Boatright said the City had come to a good agreement with the Rodeo.

“I love this event and I have a lot of confidence in what John (Clark) tells me and I feel like the paper trail these guys are going to provide for us will meet all the requirements that we have to cover ourselves for the expenditures,” Boatright said.

He added that he and City staff would be working with Mayor Rick Hall on developing a new plan for providing funding and an application process for community events in the future.

“Going forward what we’re going to do is draft a recommendation for funding to Council, and also a way to create a fee – not by increasing fees – but by establishing a small percentage of our development fees to go into a fund for these events,” he said. “We will bring back a policy that will take away a lot of the arbitrary decisions the Council has to make on these types of things.”

The target for Boatright is to begin with about $100,000 in the fund and add to it as development fees are paid.

“We may or may not spend that money,” he said. “But that money is there, then we can add to it, and hopefully what we will end up with is a fund that basically takes care of itself each year and it’s not something we have to go through all these exercises we’ve been going through.”

Park progress
The swim center may be on hold due to a grant delay, but Liberty Hill is planning on moving forward with portions of the trail at City Park.

Boatright didn’t give a timetable on when the pool project itself would be started because the City doesn’t know when the grant funds might be awarded.

“It has been delayed because the grant is a federal grant that we would receive through Texas Parks and Wildlife — it’s a $500,000 grant to utilize for the swim center,” Boatright said. “Because of the federal shutdown TPWD is not sure when they will be able to count on that money. We can’t start anything without putting our center in danger of losing the funding from TPWD until that grant is finalized.”

By separating the trail from the pool project, the City is able to move forward with that plan.

“Phase one of the trail would be approximately a little over half of the entire trail, which is a mile long that encompasses the border of the park,” Boatright said. “We will in March be going out for bids for the placement of that trail.”

The City will be using tree funds collected over the years to plant trees along the trail with information posted to give visitors information about the trees.

“It is information that a homeowner, if they are looking at planting trees, can gain a lot of information from,” Boatright said. “That’s one of the aspects of this project I’m most looking forward to.”

Strategic planning
The Council and City staff will attend a two-day strategic planning session in Fredericksburg April 1-2 similar to the meeting held in 2018.

“All of our engineers will be there, all of our contractors will be there,” Hall said. “It is going to be a good meeting. We have a lot of projects going on and this is a good opportunity to get an update with all the department heads there along with the heads of our boards.”

It will be an open, posted meeting the public is welcome to attend.

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