Proposed City budget adds 17 new positions
By Mike Eddleman
The City of Liberty Hill is growing, and Mayor Rick Hall wants to see the City staff grow with it – proposing 17 new positions in the proposed budget. The proposal also includes $60,000 listed under “Mayor and Council” on the City’s administrative personnel budget.
“When Becky (Wilkins) and I started working on the budget with Liz (Rundzieher), we noticed some of the departments were lacking what we thought was adequate staffing for the rapid growth our city is seeing,” Hall said. “We really tried to nail things down, and of course we couldn’t give everyone everything they wanted, but we picked up a lot we felt should have come over in the last few years, so we’re trying to get as much as possible this year and still be able to take the rollback rate and having a lower tax rate for the citizens.”
The proposed tax rate for the upcoming budget does decrease by a cent, from $0.50 per $100 valuation to $0.49 per $100 valuation, but if the city had not proposed a lower rate it would have faced a potential rollback election.
Under current rules, the City can collect up to 108 percent of current year revenues without risking a rollback election, and keeping the rate at $0.50 would have exceeded that percentage.
The City Council will have a budget workshop Aug. 19 as well as a public hearing on the tax rate. A second public hearing on the rate is scheduled for Aug. 26.
“We’ll have a presentation on Monday where we will talk about the current rate, the effective rate and the rollback rate,” said Liberty Hill Finance Director Becky Wilkins. “We’ll talk about each fund, and I’ll go into detail about where the money comes from for each fund. We will talk about debt and go into detail all of our debt obligations.”
When asked about the salary expense of $60,000 for mayor and council, Hall was not able to account for specifically how that money would be allocated.
“That’s a proposed amount for the Mayor, myself, to have an increase in my current stipend and also to give a stipend to the City Council,” Hall said, who said he couldn’t remember the breakdown of the amount at the time.
While he said he would provide that breakdown to The Independent, as of the Wednesday deadline he had not done so. Hall currently receives a $500 monthly stipend.
The administrative budget as proposed is about $760,000 more than the approved budget total for last year, but $33,000 less than anticipated final actual expenses. Even with the nearly flat budget amount to this year’s spending, the personnel expense in administration is set to increase more than $600,000 over the current year expenses.
The staffing increases in administration include the new Emergency Management Planner hired in July, along with new positions for an events coordinator, a project manager/inspector, code enforcement officer and two street maintenance employees.
The police department is also looking at a sizable staffing increase, with the addition of a patrol lieutenant, an investigator, traffic officer, two patrol officers and a part-time administrative employee.
An agreement with the Larkspur development for patrol services means the development will pay $108,000 annually toward the cost of two officers that will patrol the neighborhood.
Current staffing at the department includes six officers, two sergeants, a lieutenant and the chief, as well as an administrative assistant.
“There’s an average of 40 or 50 open cases that are still unsolved and for me it’s a concern I have with that many crimes happening in our city and we don’t have dedicated staff to work those crimes,” Hall said.
The budget increase also covers seven total new vehicles.
The current year approved budget for the police department was $1,209,021 and the proposed budget for next year is $1,710,638.
In the Public Works Department proposed staffing increases include two new water department employees and two sewer department employees as well as new vehicle costs.
As proposed, the budget includes a five percent merit salary increase for all employees and adding life insurance and accidental death coverage.
The Council got a look at current funding for capital improvement projects, both on the drawing board and in the works, as the City shifts its priorities.
The City needs $4.6 million to complete on going projects, which include the swim center, Wetzel Park, trails plan, Fowler, Forrest and Municipal Court Building, land purchases, downtown parking and some funds for studies and modeling.
To date, $1.9 million has been spent on 16 different projects – three of which have been completed. The higher-dollar projects on that list include Wetzel Park at $396,594, the Fowler House at $343,200 and Stubblefield Lane at $259,922 in to-date expenditures.
Of these funds, the City spent $155,030 on the Transportation plan now in limbo after Hall told area residents it would be reevaluated, and another $11,520 on the now-shelved roundabout project. In total, the City spent nearly $389,000 on land acquisition and engineering for the roundabout project before it was cancelled.
The total funds currently available, from a variety of sources, is just over $5.2 million, but with the $4.6 million spoken for in current projects, the available funds are $623,864.
Hall said because the City could be contributing to some projects on the list should the county road bond pass in November, the remainder of the funds would not be earmarked for a particular project until after the bond election and a clear timetable was established on when those funds would be needed from the City. Overall, the estimated City cost toward county bond projects is estimated at $2 million.
The estimated cost for key future projects such as Stubblefield, the intersections at Loop 332 and 1869 as well as Loop 332 and CR 279, and street rehabilitation and drainage throughout the City total an additional $17.5 million.
The Council voted to spend $8,000 on engineering services with WSB Engineering for intersection modeling at Loop 332 and 1869 as well as Loop 332 and CR279.
With the cancellation of the roundabout project in May, and ongoing concerns about downtown traffic issues surrounding the 1869 and Loop 332 four-way stop, the Council wanted to have the intersections studied for future solutions.
The scope of work will include turning movement counts, standard traffic counts, future volume modeling and synchro animations to visually illustrate the intersections.
“What we put together is really just to create a visual simulation of the traffic,” said Jay Kennedy with WSB. “The way we do that is to start with counts for the turning movements, use that to simulate how the intersection works today then look ahead.”