Council sets budget, creates jobs, makes appointments
By SHELLY WILKISON
The Liberty Hill City Council adopted a $16,897,969 budget for fiscal 2015 on Monday that includes a 3 percent pay raise for most city employees. The budget projects total revenues at $17,348,166.
The Council adopted the spending plan by a unanimous vote following a public hearing where no one addressed the Council.
In another unanimous vote, the Council adopted an ordinance setting the property tax rate at $0.527842 per $100 property valuation. The rate will generate 4.88 percent or $29,903 more income for the city than last year’s tax rate.
As part of the organizational plan for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, city staff will be restructured somewhat. On Monday, the Council created the new positions of Assistant City Manager, Associate Judge for the Municipal Court and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator.
Those new positions are in addition to new jobs created in late August for Finance Assistant and Code Enforcement/Building Inspector. The positions will be filled with existing staff. City Manager Greg Boatright said the changes are more about shifting duties and adding more responsibilities for some employees.
“I felt it was important for Council to be aware of the job descriptions. These are new positions assigned to existing employees. We’re trying to hold the line on the number of employees,” Boatright said.
Chief Financial Officer Amber Lewis will move into the position of Assistant City Manager.
Tracy Musch, who is currently Municipal Court clerk, will take the title of Associate Judge and will office at City Hall to take on additional record-keeping duties. Boatright said by appointing Musch as associate judge, she can complete some tasks that decrease court expenses.
Vince Perkins, who was recently hired on a part-time basis to oversee the wastewater treatment plant operations, will move into the full-time position of Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator in October.
Karen Smith will transition into the duties of Finance Assistant and the City is currently seeking to fill the code enforcement position.
Boatright said finding and keeping talented employees is the challenge as neighboring cities pay more. He said the finance director in Leander is paid $114,000 while the assistant city manager salary is $134,000. Liberty Hill will pay its assistant city manager $72,000 in fiscal 2015.
“We aren’t competing with the areas to the west of us. We’re competing against Leander and western Williamson County,” he said.
In addition to a 3 percent pay increase for most employees, the City approved a 2-1 match on retirement.
“There are things we can do to help attract and retain employees, but at the end of the day it boils down to salary. Our salaries are more in line (in new budget), but we’re competing with big cities bordering us for the talent pool that’s out there,” Boatright said.
Councilmember Liz Rundzieher questioned the decision not to fund more police officer positions. Police Chief Randy Williams requested three additional officers, but the budget includes funding for only one position that will not be filled until mid-way through the fiscal year.
“I have nothing against salaries, but it seems strange to give raises, but we can’t hire more police officers,” Rundzieher said. “The growth is here, yet we have the same number of officers we’ve had for years. They’re not covering the growth.”
Lewis explained that non-police employees whose responsibilities include duties related to water, wastewater and sewer can be paid partially through those separate funds. Police Department functions can only be paid for through the General Fund, and the ad valorem revenue that funds that account is committed to paying in-city sewer debt. Other revenue in the General Fund comes from sales tax, permits and fees.
“Sales tax (revenue) goes to pay the Chief’s budget, but the rest would be relying on fees, which is uncertain,” Lewis said.
Boatright said as the city continues to grow and is able to generate more revenue through impact fees, sewer debt can be paid down without utilizing all revenue generated by ad valorem tax.
After meeting in closed session 90 minutes to do a performance evaluation on Boatright, the Council reconvened and Mayor Connie Fuller said the panel is pleased with his performance.
“The consensus of the Council was that we are very happy with Greg’s performance,” she said. “We’re proud of him and the accomplishments he has made, along with the staff. It’s great working with all of you.”
The budget adopted this week includes Boatright’s salary of $84,872, which reflects a 3 percent raise. His employment contract will be considered at the next council meeting.
In other matters Monday, the Council approved a Preliminary Plat for the Caughfield subdivision to be located on US Highway 183 within the City of Liberty Hill ETJ. The 608-acre neighborhood will have 1,513 single family lots.
Boatright said the Leander City Council is expected to approve the release of the lower portion of the proposed subdivision from its ETJ to the Liberty Hill ETJ. The approval Monday of the preliminary plat and the creation of a new municipal utility district were both contingent on Leander’s release of the territory.
The Council voted to approve the creation of MUD 33, which will serve the Caughfield Ranch subdivision. In the agreement with the MUD, the City of Liberty Hill will receive up to 4 percent of any bond issuance for the development of infrastructure there. The City will also receive two cash payments for a total $350,000, and an agreement will include funds for Liberty Hill police patrols in the subdivision.
Also this week, the Council voted to allow for the appointment of business owners to city boards and commissions even though they might not reside in Liberty Hill or Liberty Hill ISD.
“This (ordinance) allows us to include the business community and gives them a voice,” said Boatright, who added that business owners are paying taxes in Liberty Hill. “We want to include people who have a stake in our community, even though they don’t live here.”
Boatright said it is difficult to find qualified city residents willing to serve in the volunteer position.
“This will make it easier to have a larger pool to draw from for appointments,” he said.
Appointed to the Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors Monday were new appointees Bill Chapman, John Clark and Debby Norman. The Council renewed the appointments of Lance Dean, Jack Harkrider and John Johnston. Frank Spinosa and Brian Butler had resigned from the Board, and David Wise was not recommended for reappointment.
To the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Council reappointed Clyde Davis and Wes Griffin, and added Cheryl New and David Widmer. Chapman, who served on the Commission resigned and was appointed to EDC Board. Member Patrick Harlow was not recommended for reappointment.
On the Parks & Recreation Board, the Council voted 4-1 to reappoint members Janet Oliver and Councilmember Elizabeth Branigan.
Councilman Wendell McLeod voted against Branigan’s appointment citing an ordinance adopted two years ago that stated council members should not serve on city boards and commissions. At the time, Branigan was serving on the Parks Board but was grandfathered in until her term came up for renewal in September 2015.
The motion adopted Monday limits her new term to one year unless a qualified replacement is found sooner.
“I want it noted that we’re violating our own ordinance,” McLeod said. “You (Branigan) should resign.” McLeod added that his concern was not with Branigan’s performance as a Board member.
Branigan said they have been searching for her replacement, but there were no applicants.
The Council also appointed Jack Garner, Jr. to an advisory committee working on the Unified Development Code.
Living Unit Equivalents
On Boatright’s recommendation, the Council reconsidered a previous decision on the restaurant square footage per LUE for the purpose of determining impact fees for wastewater service.
The Council voted Monday to set one LUE per 350 square feet of restaurant floor and one LUE per 700 square feet of restaurant patio floor. Previously, patio seating wasn’t considered separately and there was confusion as to the Council vote on 200 vs 300 square feet.
Boatright said the city received an inquiry since the vote in August from a potential restaurant that would have 4,000 square feet with a patio and the impact fees would have been $87,000 making it unreasonable to start the business in Liberty Hill. He said increasing the space would make the impact fees more in line with construction of a private septic system.
In other business, the Council voted to authorize payment of $100,000 to pay the final invoice of Brazos River Authority, which previously operated the wastewater treatment plant.
The Council also voted unanimously to designate The Liberty Hill Independent as its official newspaper for advertising purposes. City governments are required by state law to designate an official newspaper, and The Independent is the only local publication that meets the qualifications.