Williamson’s petition cost Liberty Hill taxpayers $100,000

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By SHELLY WILKISON

An attempt to bring more water to Liberty Hill at the lowest possible cost was foiled Monday by former Mayor Jamie Williamson, who submitted a petition three hours before a city council meeting where officials were set to vote on an ordinance authorizing the issuance of certificates of obligation to pay for the infrastructure.

Mrs. Williamson, who was defeated in May for a second term as mayor, obtained the signatures of 32 of the city’s 639 registered voters to legally stop the process.

“Do not be cowards, if your plan is so good let voters decide,” Mrs. Williamson wrote in a document presented to council members minutes before the meeting.

Last month, the City Council voted unanimously to authorize financial consultants to post the required public notices, prepare documents and seek a lender to issue $2.5 million in certificates of obligation to pay for construction of pipeline to bring water from the City of Leander. For the past seven years, Liberty Hill has been paying $40,000 per year to reserve some 600 acre feet of water in Lake Travis. With a growing population and insufficient water supply from wells, city leaders say tapping that reserve by way of the City of Leander is crucial to the community’s future.

Mayor Connie Fuller was angered by Mrs. Williamson’s efforts, and reminded the Council that it was the second time Mrs. Williamson has presented such a petition forcing taxpayers to pay more than necessary.

“Your actions have cost the city $100,000 or more, which is taxing to individuals in the city,” Mrs. Fuller said to Mrs. Williamson during the meeting.

The Mayor said it appeared that Mrs Williamson had misrepresented to voters the financial condition of the City when persuading them to sign the petition.

“This is based on a system she used when she was mayor that was ineffective,” Mayor Fuller said, adding that Mrs. Williamson’s system of recordkeeping no longer exists because of the inaccuracies.

Mrs. Williamson told The Independent that the administration should have sought funding from the Economic Development Corp. to pay for the water lines. She said the funds are available and the expenditure falls within the statutory realm of the EDC.

City Manager Greg Boatright, who also serves as director of the EDC, disagreed.

“A water line is stretching it,” Boatright said Tuesday. “That money is supposed to be used for economic development, tourism, new businesses and helping existing businesses expand. For us to go down the road of funding city projects with it is a misuse of funds.

“What we’re trying to do here is to provide a very basic service — providing water to our residents,” he said. “It (EDC funds) shouldn’t be used to finance basic city infrastructure.”

He added that the EDC has already budgeted expenditures for the current fiscal year that include projects to improve downtown Liberty Hill.

Boatright said Mrs. Williamson’s motivation appeared to be directed simply at paying back those who disagreed with her while she was in office — members of the EDC, Boatright, Mayor Fuller and other council members.

“I wasted a year trying to deal with the ex-mayor. Her entire interest was to hold the city back so she could remain in control. I don’t understand her motivation to cost the city an extra $100,000. Thirty-two people decided for Liberty Hill that they wanted to increase our costs by $100,000,” he said.

“That’s (the added cost) their problem,” Mrs. Williamson said, referring to the Council. “(Interest) rates are at a historic low. That’s just 1 percent difference. I wanted them (the Council) to put it up for a vote.”

In the document presented to council members, Mrs. Williamson wrote, “The elected officials need to DIRECT Mr. Boatright to recommend the above (using EDC funds) to EDC or be fired.. If the EDC board refuses, REMOVE THEM.”

Boatright said an election on the issuance of the certificates of obligation was not a feasible alternative. The process would require a minimum of eight months just to hold the election.

“We have struggled for two and one-half years to find a solution to our water problems, “ he said. “To have to wait another eight months to get under way with the project…we couldn’t even start the design (of the project) until the election was held.”

He suggested the extended timeline could have delayed bringing water to Liberty Hill by more than two years.

“This is not outside the norm for a city to issue debt for capital projects,” he said. “This (providing water) is a basic city service.” Boatright said the $100,000 the petition cost the taxpayers is based on the spread between the interest rates on certificates of obligation versus revenue bonds, in addition to consultants’ administrative costs.

The Council agreed to hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. today, Thursday, to vote on the issuance of revenue bonds — an action that is expected to be approved. Revenue bonds carry an interest rate that is typically at least one percentage point higher than certificates of obligation. Boatright explained that lenders offer lower interest rates on certificates of obligation because property tax revenue as well as utility-generate revenue is used to repay the loans. Revenue bonds will be repaid with revenue generated by the water system.

Boatright said the $100,000 that Mrs. Williamson cost city taxpayers will not be passed on in the form of higher taxes.

“That’s money that the city will have to expend that would have been better used elsewhere,” Boatright said.

“I’m disappointed that one person took it upon herself to represent to 32 other people that the city council is doing something that is not in the best interest of the city,” he added. State law required the signatures of 5 percent of registered voters to stop the issuance of certificates of obligation. In Liberty Hill, that number was 32.

“It’s (collecting the required number of signatures) pretty easy to do if someone has an axe to gring with the city,” Boatright said. “It certainly wasn’t a great effort to get 32 signatures, and who knows what they were told? It’s unfortunate that once the petition is filed that we don’t have the ability to address the things that have been stated (by Mrs. Williamson to the petitioners).”

“I can’t believe that anyone who is thinking clearly would say that we don’t need additional water,” he said. “Wells are an unreliable source of water as we have seen in the past five to six years.”

In November 2011, Mrs. Williamson stopped the City from issuing certificates of obligation to finance the infrastructure needed to connect two new water wells to the existing water system, make improvements to the system’s infrastructure and refinance two higher interest loans incurred by the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. prior to the City’s takeover of the system. Hours before the city council was scheduled to vote on the matter, Mrs. Williamson, then owner of The Leader publication, submitted a petition containing the signatures of 51 city voters forcing the council to reconsider the financing. When the proposal to finance the capital improvements with revenue bonds came to the Council a few weeks later, three members voted no claiming they didn’t have time to review the materials; and one week later, then-Council member Lisa Kirk resigned and apologized if the vote taken the week prior was not “the best thing.” Minutes after accepting Mrs. Kirk’s resignation, the council voted to issue $2.28 million in revenue bonds with then-councilmember Mike Crane changing his vote from the week before.

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