EDITORIAL: Planning to point fingers

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The Liberty Hill City Council has been talking an awful lot about planning at recent meetings. But very little of the discussion has been about planning the future of Liberty Hill, instead, focusing more on trying to emphasize to whoever is listening that there was no plan before.

Before means prior to the election of Rick Hall in May 2018 and then the election or appointment of four new Council members the following year.

Every Council has its own agenda, and is expected to eagerly pursue it, but few make so much effort to downplay and question the work – or lack thereof – of previous administrations.

Regular comments are now made about the city previously not having plans for capital improvements, or questioning the validity of long-term plans in place when this Council was sworn in.

That’s just not true.

Again, the current Council may disagree with a swim center, roundabout or the master drainage plan, but there can be no argument that there was not thorough planning involved in those projects.

Recent actions raise the question of whether this Council actually has a firm grasp on planning.

It took a request from Council member Tony DeYoung in July to prompt a public Council discussion of the current state of capital project funds in Liberty Hill. The result of that presentation was an admission that available funds are just about spent and there is no current plan for future projects. There was the comment about an unanticipated project and that many projects have run over budget and “those things happen.”

The unanticipated project was the joint project with the Texas Department of Transportation to add right turn lanes at the intersection of RM 1869 and SH 29. The problem? That project was long planned for and routinely showed up in reports on current capital projects for more than a year before the current administration slipped into the driver’s seat.

Cost overruns? Yes, those do happen at times, but are usually discussed and approved when they go over. The cost overruns in question now occurred under the management of this administration, one of them to the tune of an additional $130,000 on a project originally slated for $171,000. And not once did the Council talk about the more than 40 percent increase in the project’s cost.

The slow leak that seems like it is draining the swim center project is the argument that the City did not plan accordingly to pay for that project. But funds were specifically earmarked for that project until they were re-prioritized by the current Council. That’s the Council’s prerogative, but the Council should also stand up and tell the community it is choosing to shuffle priorities and the pool now has no funding source — not because there was no plan, but because they changed the plan.

Not only is there more effort to point fingers over funding questions than there is to answer these questions, there is also a growing list of actions that raise questions over how much planning actually goes into the current actions of the Council.

In January, the Council voted to lower the speed limit on Loop 332. It was months later that they voted to approve a traffic study for the road that ultimately showed that the previous limits were the appropriate ones. There appeared to be confusion over what a traffic study would or would not do, and no sign that the original decision was made based on anything but a hunch that a lower speed limit would be better.

A new drainage plan has been pitched, and while no vote has been taken, Mayor Hall has shown he is very much in favor of adopting the new proposal – primarily because it suggests cost savings. But at the last Council meeting, an engineer with the firm Hall has been in discussion with stopped short of endorsing the much simpler plan, indicating they have not done a thorough analysis.

So there was an effort to shelve an expensive, methodical plan with something much simpler that engineers had not even thoroughly studied yet.

A workshop on the swim center proposal last week had at least a couple of Council members indicating they were unaware that all the “new” questions surrounding the pool project were actually not new at all but had been discussed at length long ago. It took Parks Board members to explain that all these questions had been answered at least once in the last three years.

That meeting also led the Council to consider adding more regular meetings with boards to discuss and consider ongoing issues and projects. That would be a good start.

Perhaps spending as much time considering and understanding what has come before can be more useful than assuming nothing occurred in Liberty Hill prior to last year. And demonstrating informed planning is the best way to show you’re the better planner. Pointing fingers is a bad plan, and won’t result in the future we all need the Council to lead us to.

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