Council signs off on budget increase

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By Mike Eddleman
Managing Editor

In a dramatic shift in its fiscal approach, the Liberty Hill City Council signed off on a general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year that is $1.2 million higher than last year’s approved budget of $2.96 million.
The new budget, crafted by Mayor Rick Hall and Mayor Pro tem Liz Rundzieher, gained unanimous approval with $4.2 million in expenses against $4.2 million in projected revenues. Council member Gram Lankford was absent from the meeting.
The philosophical divergence in budgeting expenses centers on former City Administrator Greg Boatright’s insistence that the City plan its budget around tax revenues rather than one-time fees.
“We’re already underwriting a major portion of our budget based on one-time fees and that’s not good,” Boatright said during the 2018 budget debate over adding staff. “ You don’t ever take cash-ending balance to underwrite employees, because what are you going to do next year?”
Ultimately the Council chose not to add staff last year, but will add 17 this year.
Hall doesn’t believe there is an issue with relying more on the revenue from fees, citing the large sum in the City’s reserve that he said is not necessary.
The new tax rate drops from $0.50 per $100 valuation to $0.49. A property owner with a home valued at $250,000 will pay $1,225 in City ad valorem taxes next year. The Council faced a possible rollback election if it had chosen not to reduce the rate by the one cent because holding the rate at $0.50 would have pushed revenues over the state cap.

New staff
Liberty Hill currently has 37 employees, with vacancies in the City Administrator post and project manager/inspector position. The proposed budget has 18 positions added that were not in last year’s budget, including the vacant project manager/inspector position and recently filled Emergency Management Planner post recently filled that were on the books prior to the budget being proposed. The total grew from 17 to 18 Monday when the Council voted to move forward with the new certified planner position.
Some of the proposed positions will be covered partially through the general fund and partially through the water or wastewater funds. Hall indicated that some of the excess reserve funds may be used for personnel as well.
The proposed administrative personnel budget more than doubled from last year at $505,420 to $1.125 million this year, not including the certified planner position that has not been finalized. Hall said the salary range for a certified planner begins around $70,000.
The other area where personnel expenses are considerably higher is within the police department, where five full time and one part time employee make up a large portion of city-wide staffing increase of 18.
The projected personnel expense for the current year in the department is just over $785,000, with next year’s budget coming in at $1.26 million.

Council compensation
The new budget does include increased compensation for the Mayor and first-time compensation for Council members.
There is $100,000 budgeted for Mayor and Council pay, with $40,000 set aside for the Mayor and $12,000 each for the five Council members.
No member of the Council will draw the pay until the next election for their place. The winner of the Mayor’s race and the two Council seats currently occupied by Canady and Tony DeYoung would begin being paid following the May election. The seats for Council members Steve McIntosh, Liz Rundzieher and Gram Lankford would begin drawing the salary following the 2021 election.

New reserve policy
Rather than putting more into the reserve fund, which was at approximately $2.7 million at the end of the last fiscal year, the Council has voted on a new policy that will only hold four months worth of reserve which totals $1.06 million.
The remainder of the current reserve will be redirected to cover other expenses.
“The rest we will be using for different CIP projects and starting some of the increase in staffing that we’re doing,” Hall said. “With the money we will have coming in on a regular basis we will be able to cover that going forward. Like getting all the cars up front taken care of, we’re using that money for that.”
Hall could not say exactly how much money would now be available to spend after reducing the amount of reserves to be kept on hand, but if the fund remained at what it was last September, about $1.6 million would be currently available for other purposes.

Capital projects
While no funds were budgeted for new or existing capital projects, Hall said the much of the bond funds approved in August 2018 – $3 million – would be earmarked for some projects the City intends to complete.
Three prominent capital improvement projects still said to be on tap for the City include two parking projects downtown – Van Alley and the washateria tract on the northeast corner of Loop 332 and CR 279 – and the Swim Center at City Park will be funded through bonds issued
“By not doing the roundabout and reprioritizing the funds that’s where that’s coming from is that last bond,” Hall said.
He said the parking downtown fell into one project, which also included some work on Aynsworth, Fallwell and Barton streets.
“That should be on the agenda for the next Council meting in September, if not definitely by the first Council meeting in October to award the bid for that project,” Hall said. “Then the swim center is the second project.”
The new budget includes $539,140 in debt service payments this year.

Other items
Contractual services was budgeted at $574,165 for the current year, but is expected to top $1.1 million in expenditures by year end. The proposed amount for next year is $692,051, down considerably from current expenditures. The Council has recently contracted with Powell Municipal and Buie & Co. for contract services that will be billed hourly.
The budget calls for an increase over last year’s budget in materials and supplies, but is nearly two thirds less than the projected actual expenditures of $147,000.
The training budget for the new year jumped from $50,000 to $136,000 for staff and council, and the year-old ban on out-of-state training was lifted by the Council in August.
The approved budget includes a balanced budget of $4,505,862 for wastewater, $1,230,720 for City Sewer, and $1,431,325 for City Water.

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