SRO plan continues to evolve, headed back to LHISD

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The next step has been plotted in an evolving agreement between the City of Liberty Hill and Liberty Hill ISD that would establish a school resource officer (SRO) program.

Council Members Ron Rhea and Liz Rundzieher are scheduled to visit the school board at its August meeting to address the jurisdiction issue – one of the prime sticking points – that the City says can be solved by annexing the school campuses not currently in the city limits. Three campuses, the high school, Bill Burden and Rancho Sienna elementary schools, are outside the city limits.

City Attorney Dottie Palumbo reworked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) presented to the Council previously to only include campuses in the city limits and reflect a program start date of Jan. 1, 2019.

“Rather than put the annexation request in the agreement, I just said the agreement would be for schools within the city limits, so it would be up to the schools to take it upon themselves to request annexation if they want the school resource officer,” Palumbo said. “City staff is recommending to start this Jan. 1, 2019. The change is due to budgeting and trying to start up this program.”

The Council unanimously supported the proposed changes and agreed to send the two members to the next school board meeting.

City staff has continued to zero in on specific costs for the program, with the latest estimate, including salary, benefits, equipment, training, vehicle and overtime coming in at $90,452 per officer.

The school board set aside $100,000 for law enforcement in its preliminary proposed budget in May. Trustees will adopt the budget in September.

The effort to establish an SRO program, which was kicked off with multiple private meetings between Mayor Rick Hall, Police Chief Maverick Campbell, Liberty Hill ISD Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle and Superintendent Rob Hart, has slowed since being presented to the Council in June as questions arose regarding specific costs, liability and jurisdiction.

Palumbo said she is still researching the liability issues in an agreement for these services between a school district and city.

Mayors powers, again
A familiar ordinance regarding the powers and duties of the mayor made its way back on the council agenda July 23 with Council Members Rhea and Troy Whitehead listed on the item.

The same item was on the agenda and discussed in May with no action, and this time Mayor Hall appeared determined to preempt the discussion before it got started. After reading the agenda item, he immediately voiced his opposition to the ordinance.

“I would like to table this for review,” Hall said. “I believe this impacts the core foundation of my duties as mayor according to Texas Government Code, and I’d like to table this to submit to the Attorney General for an opinion.”

Palumbo clarified the issue, saying that a city does not have the right to submit an issue directly to the Attorney General, adding that the mayor would have to contact a state legislator for help in doing so.

Whitehead requested the issue be taken up once again in executive session, but when the Council emerged no action was taken on the issue.

“It is just for clarification, there’s nothing there that’s benign,” Rhea told The Independent after the meeting. “It’s more for clarification for us so that we know his duties and powers.”

Hall said he hoped now the issue is behind the Council for good.

“I’m 99.999 percent sure it is done,” Hall said. “So basically what we did is we reviewed the state statute for some clarification and everybody is okay with what the state says I can and cannot do, including myself. As far as I’m concerned it’s behind us, it’s done, it’s over with and we’re moving forward.”

Bond notice
With the City Council barreling toward budget approval time over the next six weeks, city staff proposed and Council approved, a public notice to publish, making it possible for the council to issue tax and water system surplus revenue certificates of obligation.

The action does not mean the Council will issue bonds or the amount of the issuance if the Council votes to do so, but provides for the public notice required in the process.

“There will be a laundry list of things Council can choose from,” Boatright said. “What we’re talking about tonight is just getting the notice out there and that we can go up to $10 million, but will more than likely be between $2 million and $10 million.”

The list of possible projects includes the work on the Fowler Building and other buildings set for renovation, park improvements, the Stubblefield realignment and extension, the roundabout, drainage projects and wastewater plant expansion.

“Michel (Sorrell) and I have been looking at it, and we know what the Council’s feeling toward our tax rate and we’re very aware of that and we keep that in mind when we’re talking about these things,” Boatright said. “I think at our next council meeting we will talk to Council about what the limits will be if we want to hold the line on our tax rate.”

Boatright said the City has issued bonds twice in the last three years, once for the Bagdad waterline for $2.5 million and the $10 million for the wastewater plant.

EDC salary
The City Council approved a proposed salary increase for Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Executive Director Lance Dean.

The EDC forwarded the raise proposal following completion of Dean’s annual review. The raise is seven percent, moving Dean’s salary from $90,000 to $96,300, effective with the next city pay period.

EDC incentives
The Auto Zone incentive agreement approved by the EDC July 12 got the Council’s stamp of approval Monday.

The new Auto Zone, announced by the Council in May, is the first beneficiary of the new EDC incentive program. The EDC approved up to $20,000 in reimbursements for permit and fee costs as the company builds its new store in Liberty Hill.

The auto parts retailer will be located on the west side of the Corner Store at Stonewall Parkway and State Highway 29. The store will be 7,381 square feet on 1.038 acres. Dean said Auto Zone was expected to employ about 12, three of those full time and likely nine part time.

This is the first time the EDC has considered an application under the new incentives program established in March.

CR 200
Council approved the inter-local agreement with Williamson County that will contribute $100,000 from the Liberty Hill EDC to the CR 200 improvement project.

“The EDC was very generous in underwriting the cost of this,” Boatright said. “This is a very important intersection that certainly affects a lot of our citizens and a lot of citizens outside of our city.”

The project is due to be let in August, with construction to begin as early as this fall. The projected completion time for the project is 14 months.

The City is paying $100,000, Texas Department of Transportation is contributing $500,000 and Williamson County is covering the balance of the estimated $2.06 million project.

Improvements will include through lanes, and dedicated right and left turn lanes from CR 200 onto SH 29 as well as improvements on the Loop 332 side of the intersection.

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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