Liberty Hill city election postponed

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The question of when the City of Liberty Hill election will be held got an official answer Monday when the City Council voted unanimously to postpone it until November.

The election will now be held in conjunction with the General Election.

“There was a mandate from the Governor that we postpone the election to the November election,” Mayor Rick Hall said. “With the last ordinance we did we said we were going to have that in May, but since the Governor came back out and said we need to move it the only way we can change that now is to do an ordinance.”

Council member Kathy Canady asked whether the new ordinance could be changed if “something better” became available.

“If in the next few weeks or month the Governor does see fit that we can do a summer election then we would just do the same thing and bring an ordinance back to Council pending enough time to do it in,” Hall said.

In March, the Council voted unanimously to move forward with the May 2 city election.

Gov. Greg Abbott gave cities and school districts the option to postpone their May 2 elections until Nov. 3 with a proclamation March 18.

The previous Council decision came on the same night that Liberty Hill ISD decided to postpone its election, and went against the trend at that time in Williamson County as cities and school districts were making the decision to postpone or appear poised to do so.

The two items slated for the City election are the Mayoral race between Hall and challenger Liz Branigan, and a measure asking voters to determine the length of council terms, either extending them to three years or keeping them at the current two years.

Following the election and swearing in of the new Council, the winner of the Mayoral contest, as well as Council members Kathy Canady and Tony DeYoung – who did not draw an opponent – will be paid a monthly salary. The Mayor’s salary is $40,000 per year and Council members’ salary is $12,000 annually. Council positions do not draw the salary until they next come up for election.

The salary was approved as part of the current budget, passed by the Council in September 2019.

Charter election
In addition to postponing the Council election, the Council also voted to push the planned Charter election for Liberty Hill to May 2021.

“I think it’s best to postpone the charter (election) in November and push it to the May election of next year,” Hall said. “Now that we’ve had a 30-day delay – and we don’t know how long that delay is going to be – I think it’s best we push this item to the May election.”

It is expected that within a couple of weeks of social distancing and gathering restrictions being lifted that the appointed charter committee will get back to work.

“I know the committee is chomping at the bit to get back together so I would assume within a couple of weeks after this stay home order is lifted they will want to get back together,” Hall said. “They’re anxious about it because they want to get it done.”

The committee met once prior to the recent orders being imposed.

“The first time was basically about what the charter does and what their role is in it,” Hall said. “It was a very high-level charter overview and what the expectations were. It was nothing really about the actual charter.”

The 10 named to the committee are: Larry Allman, Kathy Canady, Bill Chapman, Daniel Duckworth, John Johnston, Liz Rundzieher, Kim Sanders, Whitney Brace, Keeling Neves and Dianne Williams.

Policy clarification
The Council approved an updated Living Unit Equivalent (LUE) guidance document, establishing more specific definitions for different types of residential and businesses types.

Hall used the example of a single-family home versus and multifamily structure such as a duplex in explaining why the update was needed.

“It really wasn’t very explanatory in the old version as far as multifamily goes,” Hall said of the new guidance. “We just had to detail that out because the way it was looking with our old chart was that for a three-plex it was one LUE per building, and to me it looked like we were only charging them a third of an LUE per unit. Those are the kinds of things we were trying to get clarified.”

The new guidance gets into more detail on commercial property, focusing on the type of business rather than simply by size of the facility.

“There really wasn’t a lot of explanation in there for commercial property either,” Hall said. “You might have a 3,200-square-foot office building that’s got a call center and two bathrooms. You will have minimal water and sewer usage in there, but then you have another 3,200-square-foot location where a laundromat is located. They use a lot of water and a lot of sewer but it’s still a 3,200-square-foot building. Is that equivalent for what we are charging?”

Downtown intersection
A task order was approved by the Council, naming Steger Bizzell to provide plans and specification, bid and construction management and inspection services for the intersection work planned for CR 279 and Loop 332.

The engineering services will cost the City $114,482 for the project, which is estimated to have a total construction price tag for the intersection – without the adjacent parking lot – of $858,081.

The plan will alter the Loop coming from the east toward CR 279 to create a T-intersection with a three-way stop. Traffic coming into downtown from CR 279 would be able to turn right onto the Loop or continue into downtown after a stop. Drivers entering downtown from the east on Loop 332 will be able to continue right on the Loop with a yield or turn left onto CR 279 after a stop. Traffic leaving downtown will be able to continue south on CR 279 or turn left and continue on the Loop following a stop.

To assist with traffic control at the intersection and designate the continued right into downtown from the Loop, a triangular median will be constructed at the intersection.

The project replaces a plan scrapped by the Council in May 2019 to construct a roundabout at the intersection. The City awarded a bid in April 2019 for $1,372,104 for the roundabout and adjacent parking lot project on the laundromat property.

New pump station
The Council voted unanimously to award a bid in the amount of $1,797,235 to PGC General Contractors for construction of a new pump station and ground storage tank on the west side of town.

“This will ultimately provide water for the Butler Farms development on the western side of the City of Liberty Hill, and it will also have connection that will provide water redundancy back into town with a couple of locations where it is connected back into the city,” said Curtis Steger with Steger Bizzell.

Hall added that the new pump station and storage would help improve fire flow in town from the west end.

There were five bids received, ranging in price from the award amount up to $2.38 million. The engineer’s estimated cost prior to bids being received was $1,876,640.

“This project is actually part of the PID (Public Improvement District) being used for Butler Farms so this will be reimbursed back to the City,” Hall said. “We will have the cost up front, but once the PID is being funded we can be reimbursed for this.”

Remote working
As the City copes with the same social distancing and mass gathering restrictions as businesses in the area, a majority of city staff members have been working from home.

“It’s been somewhat of a challenge because I guess for me it’s always been easier to walk into someone’s office and just ask them a question,” Hall said. “The staff has been doing very well and I haven’t seen any issues we’ve missed as far as deadlines because of this.”

The police department is running normal shifts, and the public works staff is running with half the staff on at a time and rotating them out, according to Hall, while 65 to 70 percent of the remaining staff work remotely.

“As far as the admin staff goes, there are about four people in the offices on a daily basis then other staff is working opposite days to minimize the amount of people in the building at a given time,” he said.

Computer and technology upgrades around the beginning of the year have made it easier to manage the remote working plan.

“It allows a lot tighter security and it allows more flexibility,” Hall said of the upgrades. “Luckily we had all that done before this hit and it has made it pretty easy to work remotely. All of our computers work off of remote desktops so nobody physically saves any information on their computer.”

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