Council reviews balanced budget proposal, approves development plats

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill City Council members reviewed Monday what could be the final draft of a proposed budget for fiscal 2015. The Council has met every week this month and a portion of each meeting has been a budget workshop.

The Council heard from department directors regarding their wish lists for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. All combined, the requests of administrators exceeded projected revenues by $39,000.

On Monday, the budget proposal presented by staff for the General Fund was balanced with $77,656 to the good of projected revenue generated from sales tax, ad valorem taxes, permits and fees.

In fiscal 2015, the City is proposing expenditures of $2,314,100.

Chief Financial Officer Amber Lewis told the Council Monday that the budget had been scaled down since the last meeting Aug. 17. She noted the areas where changes had been made.

A request by Police Chief Randy Williams to create positions for two full-time patrol officers, along with the purchase of three police vehicles was reduced to one new officer and two vehicles.

However, Lewis advised that the City should wait six months before filling the position.

“I want to make sure fees are coming in like we anticipate,” she said.

If the budget is approved in its current form, Lewis said one police vehicle could be purchased at the beginning of the fiscal year in October, with the second one to be purchased at the time the new officer is hired some six months later. The City will purchase another vehicle for use by a new Code Enforcement/Building Inspector.

Lewis said revenue from the Municipal Court is down 20 percent, but noted that the City is now automatically setting aside payments collected on fines that are due to the state. In previous years, the budget showed the total revenue without taking those payments to the state into consideration.

“The Municipal Court is the only department that is under performing,” said City Manager Greg Boatright. “We’re showing actual revenue in this budget because 50 percent goes to the state.”

After the meeting, Boatright said “under performing” might not have been the best choice of words. However, prior to the employment of the current court clerk in February, delinquent fines for citations were not being collected as they should have been. He said progress has been made in the past several months.

Other changes were made in the budgets of the water, wastewater, city sewer and street maintenance funds.

Lewis said one change to the street fund was to allocate monies for actual street repair and budgets for salaries and administrative costs were reduced.

In the revised budget for the Economic Development Corp., she had reduced the numbers that were originally proposed to be spent on in-city redevelopment.

When the EDC Board met last Thursday, it approved the revised budget proposal for its fund.

Last month, EDC Executive Director Kirk Clennan recommended that a large sum be set aside for improvements to water infrastructure in the old town area. However, some board members expressed their disagreement when they saw that the move would basically drain the EDC’s resources.

Lewis said the number was reduced in the new spending plan to $200,000. She said the City was making progress with regard to setting aside money in its fund balance.

“We’re not having to capture any of our fund balance to balance this new budget,” Lewis said, adding that the City has met the goal of maintaining three months operating expenses in the fund balance.

She said the fund balance is now at $750,000 compared to $152,000 when she first started handling the city’s finances.

Lewis added that the City has seen a 24 percent increase in sales tax revenue in the current fiscal year. About 83 percent of the way through the current fiscal year, the increased revenue may be indicative of future activity. The City is projecting a significant increase in sales tax revenue in the new budget year, estimating $542,820.

Also Monday, the first of two public hearings was held on the proposed ad valorem tax rate of $0.527642 per $100 valuation, which includes an 8 percent increase on the Maintenance and Operations portion.

No one addressed the Council on the proposed tax rate. The second hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at City Council Chambers, 2801 RR 1869.

In other business this week, the Council approved the final plat for Liberty Place, a neighborhood of duplexes on Loop 332 and Carl Shipp Road across from Lions Foundation Park. The subdivision is currently under construction.

The Council also approved a Re-plat for Lot #3 at Riverbend Oaks. There, 6.58 acres will be divided into three lots for three residences, said Planning Director Sally McFeron. The property is not inside the city limits, but is inside the City’s ETJ.

Chief Williams requested the Council adopt a resolution urging the Texas Department of Transportation to lower the speed limits on State Highway 29, Loop 332 and RR 1869 inside the city limits.

Council members made no comments regarding the Chief’s suggestions, which were made during his departmental report.

The Council met 35 minutes in closed session, but no action was taken on a contract with US Water.

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