Whitehead points to progress

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Continuity and keeping on what incumbent Council member Troy Whitehead sees as the right path are why he believes he is the right choice to remain as the Place 1 representative on the Council.

“The experience I have over the last two terms, and then the relationship I have with the rest of the Council and the city staff is what I’d point to,” he said. “I think we have a good working relationship and the same goals, to see the City grow in the right way and continuously make improvements.”

Whitehead served out the remainder of former Mayor Connie Fuller’s Council term before being reelected. He is running for his second full term on the council.

One of the joys for Whitehead, who has been in Liberty Hill for 47 years, is working closely with what he sees as a great staff.

“I’ve really got to hand it to the city staff and financial advisors, they’ve really got us in a good place right now, dealing with the growth and looking to the future,” he said. “They are helping make sure we are not putting ourselves in a position where if the economy takes a downturn that we are prepared.”

Looking at tax rates, Whitehead feels like Liberty Hill is where it needs to be.

“I think it is really comparable to the communities around us,” he said. “I’d like to see it stay flat, only because, for one, I really don’t want to raise it, and I think the majority of the Council would agree with that as well as the city staff.”

There is another concern, for Whitehead, about lowering the tax rate.

“If it wouldn’t put the City in such a precarious position if we lowered it, I’d like to be able to do it,” he said. “But it’s easy to lower it one year based on the added value in the city because of growth, but getting that back – with a lot of the stuff in the Legislature now that could limit the way you can get it back – they could really put the City in a poor financial position.”

On the fee side, he doesn’t anticipate the passage of a drainage fee, and understands the need for water rates to keep pace with growth.

“The drainage is something I feel we can fix as we go along with the road expansion,” he said. “We’ve got a drainage plan, and we’ve identified problems we have with that plan, and the City staff is doing a good job of trying to get that taken care of as we go along. There are some things that really are an issue now that need to be taken care of sooner rather than later. I personally can’t see a drainage fee coming.

“I don’t like to see my water bill raised either, but if it’s minimal and it makes the water and sewer department solvent, that’s something we have a responsibility to do.”

Parks are important to Whitehead, not only for the quality of life, but also because it is something the city can do that is tangible and easily enjoyed by the community, versus the often unseen and unnoticed improvements such as infrastructure.

“Right now we don’t really have anything and the people here are having to go to other places to take advantage of those things,” he said, citing parks in Leander and Cedar Park. “I think if we have the opportunity we have to take advantage and invest in those things. It brings people to the community as well as gives the citizens paying the taxes in the community something they can use.”

The current and future growth is something Whitehead embraces, but he does see some pitfalls that go along with it. But he said those potential issues are things the City and Council are focused on.

“The problems that I see that come along with growth are the traffic,” he said. “Everybody sees it. We’re trying to address that as a City with some of the road projects coming up. The downtown gets to be a struggle in the afternoons and the mornings during the school time. That’s one of the problems you see with growth. It taxes your infrastructure, your water and sewer, but the City is doing a really good job of managing that side of it to make the growth pay for itself and I think we have a good plan for that.”

The trajectory of growth for Liberty Hill is one Whitehead has observed in other communities as well.

“There’s really not much different than what we’re seeing now,” he said. “The communities going in now are nice communities. The business will always follow the communities. The commercial follows the residential. I’ve seen that working for PEC (Pedernales Electric Cooperative), I’ve seen it for decades.”

Even as the business growth ramps up, he believes it will come in phases.

“You will see the gas stations, then the fast food places, and as those sustain themselves you’ll see the nicer restaurants and hotels and things like that,” he said. “That’s going to happen, and planning for that and having strategic places available for them to take advantage of is going to be important.”

Rather than a controller of growth, he sees the City Council as a facilitator of growth.

“Sometimes there’s a misconception in the community that the Council encourages certain businesses,” Whitehead said. “Of course we encourage businesses, but there was a misconception that we pick the types and the ones that come in. We don’t. We make it possible for them to come here and have the amenities they need. In those misconceptions people say ‘we’ve got too many fast food restaurants now’, but those are the businesses that want to come here now. Down the road, we’ll start seeing the other types of industries come.”

The City may not pick and choose which businesses come to town, but Whitehead said there are some ways to manage the look of the business community.

“You can manage the way some of those businesses look from the outside by your building requirements and your codes,” he said. “I think we’re doing a good job of that. We’re easy to work with, but at the same time we do have expectations that are placed on the people that are wanting to invest.”

Transportation plays a key role in growth, and Whitehead likes the plan laid out this last year in the City’s transportation master plan.

“The ones we have going on now are a long time coming, like the CR 200 intersection,” he said. “As far as the rest of the plans, those are going to be pretty fluid I think. We have identified corridors we want to take advantage of, but as far as the exact alignments of those roads, I think those are going to shift as growth develops on those properties.”

He had his own doubts about the one-way streets plan, but citing the inability to widen the streets to accommodate two-way traffic, Whitehead believes the plan should probably remain.

“I had a little bit of heartache just like everyone else did on the one-way thing,” Whitehead said. “I do think because of the concentration we have around those areas where we did approve the one-way streets, once everyone gets used to doing it I think it will make more sense. It was a lot different before the traffic was as heavy as it is now.”

Whitehead understands the importance of addressing staffing needs, but he said those needs have to be weighed against budget constraints.

“That’s one thing that is a juggling act in having enough staff on the police side, the water department and the sewer department,” he said. “The budget only goes so far and we need to make sure that all of the departments are adequately staffed to take care of our citizens.”

Increased staffing needs is a byproduct of growth, and that growth will eventually allow the departments to grow as well.

“In a perfect world, we hire as many as we need,” he said. “I would like to see the police department have enough officers to run three shifts, 24-7, 365 days a year and provide enough for them to be able to take vacations and things like that and not put a strain on the department. We’ll get there, you just have to be able to pay for it along the way.”

The gauge for when to add staff in Whitehead’s opinion is to watch the population growth.

“Part of it is the crime factor, I mean we’re very lucky living in a community like this where there isn’t a whole lot of crime,” Whitehead said. “Part of that you have to think is the presence of our police force. As we grow and add communities and incorporate some of the communities that are already here into our City – and Stonewall is one of them – and as we pick up more places like that, the police department, as well as some of the other departments are going to have to increase staff to be able to handle that.”

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