Police needs, maintenance questions dominate City budget talks

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

During the Liberty Hill City Council’s second budget workshop this week, discussion centered on police department budget requests and how best to handle future maintenance needs.

The requests made by Police Chief Maverick Campbell in his submission to City Administrator Greg Boatright and Finance Director Michel Sorrell would increase the department’s budget by more than $700,000. The approved police department budget for the current year is $1.03 million, and the proposed baseline budget presented to the Council is $1.35 million.

The proposed budget did include two school resource officers (SRO) at $180,000 based on a pending agreement with Liberty Hill ISD, but Monday’s discussion eluded to the possibility that when the budget is finalized those funds might be removed from the budget because there is still no agreement.

Sorrell said a budget amendment could be done later in the year should an agreement be reached.

What was not recommended were three new positions, a lieutenant, an investigator and a traffic officer.

Current staffing at the department includes six officers, two sergeants, a lieutenant and the chief.

“The patrol lieutenant position is to oversee all the patrol officers, versus having one lieutenant trying to do support services and oversee patrol officers at the same time,” Campbell said. “The other two positions I felt were more key than the lieutenant’s position, and that is the traffic officer and the investigator.”

To Campbell, the investigator position is most critical, saying it would have a positive impact on the department’s ability to close cases more efficiently.

“The investigator position to me is really key this budget cycle,” Campbell said. “If I was to prioritize them, the investigator is the big one. We’ve had several felony cases, in one of which a victim was beaten nearly to death, and that officer responded to that call, took that report, then went on his three days off, took an extra day of vacation and was off for four days. Monday morning, 12 witnesses came into the station, so myself, the lieutenant, and an officer who had to be pulled off the road took witness statements.”

The investigator would also serve as the evidence custodian, making that work more efficient and organized as well.

“(Not having the investigator) eventually leads to frustration by the victims of these crimes, because they’re dealing with multiple people and not just one investigator or detective. It also leads to missed evidence, miscommunication and the inability to prosecute criminal cases properly because there’s too many hands in the basket of the case.”

When asked about the number of unresolved cases the department has and what types they were, Campbell said they average 40-45 unresolved cases annually and most are misdemeanors.

The Council did not discuss adding any of the requested positions into the proposed baseline budget Monday.

Boatright has said he supports filling equipment needs as they arise, but will not consider additional staffing for the department at this time. Mayor Rick Hall has said he wants to hear all of the requests before deciding on what his preference is for the final budget.

Maintenance tinkering

Hall asked for information on the city hiring a pair of maintenance employees to take care of work currently being done under contract by Giraffe Enterprises.

He said it could save the city money and also provide two extra employees at times they were not busy with primary tasks such as landscaping, janitorial work and general maintenance.

Sorrell put together a basic budget of what the addition of two maintenance workers would cost the city, coming up with a first-year number of about $170,000 including salaries at $15 per hour each and $80,000 in pest-control equipment, lawn-mowing equipment, safety gear, a vehicle, trailer and fuel.

Hall said some of the equipment would not be needed, but a final number on the cost was not nailed down.

Council Member Ron Rhea voiced concern about finding qualified staff to handle the wide variety of work – some of which requires certifications – for $15 per hour, and keeping them on staff.

The current agreement with Giraffe Enterprises is for about $125,000 this year, and is for building maintenance, landscaping and grounds, citywide cleanup, code enforcement property cleanup and special events. For this fiscal year, Giraffe has maintained all city buildings, provided the landscaping and mowing for facilities, including replacing a poorly installed sprinkler system at City Hall. They also remodeled the City Council Chambers including building the dais. Giraffe Enterprises worked the Independence Day event and put up and took down Christmas items.

About $32,000 of what was spent with Giraffe Enterprises was related to capital projects, which has now been rolled into the bids for those projects going forward.

Sorrell has asked the company to put together a proposal for nothing but general maintenance, landscaping and janitorial work for the upcoming year, with a schedule for how long the tasks would take and how often they would be done.

“I asked them to put together a proposal to tell us what they could do for a particular dollar amount and what would the schedule be,” she said. “That would solidify what we’re looking at and what we’re doing.”

The company’s proposal is expected to be brought to council at it’s next budget meeting Aug. 27.

Taxes
To keep options open as the budget is finalized over the next three weeks, the Council voted for a proposed rate at the rollback rate of $0.548962, but has indicated they plan to maintain the current $0.50 rate or even consider ways of lowering it.

Holding the line on the current rate was the preference for Boatright.

The tax on a $300,000 home at the current rate of $0.50 per $100 valuation would be $1,500. Lowering the tax rate to $0.48 would drop that $60 per year.

Each cent on the tax rate generates about $25,000 in revenue for the city.

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