Workshop draws little discussion on city budget

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The Liberty Hill City Council met for less than 15 minutes Monday over the proposed budget, where discussion was limited to a justification for Mayor and Council salaries by new Council member Kathy Canady.

She began by saying she didn’t know when she decided to apply for the seat vacated by Ron Rhea in July that the proposed budget would include compensation for Council members, but she does support it.

“I think that Council members deserve a stipend,” Canady said as she read a statement for the Council. “I remember Charles (Canady’s husband) said the day would come when the City could afford to pay its Council members…there just wasn’t enough money when we started out in 2000.”

She went on to explain her husband’s years of service on the council and her years serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission and what she referred to as the costs of that service.

“It was expensive financially and emotionally,” she said. “With that said I am okay with the stipend. It is very expensive to be on council and there is a lot more to it and time involved than two meetings a month.”

Canady explained that no current member of the Council – according to state law – would receive compensation unless reelected as the law does not allow compensation to take effect until after the next election.

“The public will have the right to pick who is going to get this stipend, but the Council sets the amount,” she said. “They’re going to get their voice on the stipend issue.”

The details of the compensation plan were not spelled out when the budget was proposed in early August, then when more information was made available, the $60,000 in the line item of the budget for Mayor and Council grew to $100,000.

Following calls in The Independent and from the community to answer more questions and explain the compensation plan, the Council then brought up Monday the issue of the effective date as part of its justification.

“Anytime you introduce a new salary to an elected official it gets approved now but doesn’t take effect until the next election,” Mayor Rick Hall said. “So anyone not getting paid right now, the salary will go into effect the next time that position is elected.”

So if the new compensation plan is approved through the proposed budget, the winner of the Mayor’s race and the two Council seats currently occupied by Canady and Tony DeYoung would begin being paid following the May election. The seats for Council members Steve McIntosh, Liz Rundzieher and Gram Lankford would begin drawing the salary following the 2021 election.

When asked about what appears to be a lack of public communication about the budget plan, Hall told The Independent it has not been his intent to keep the information from being shared.

“I hadn’t prepared to talk about it until it was approved, and then we could answer all the questions,” Hall said. “Maybe that’s backwards from how we should have been doing it. My thought was until it’s approved it might never happen. It’s a Catch 22. It was never my intention to not talk about it, that was just my thinking about it.”

To try and be more clear about the budget and his plans, Hall intends to get more details out to the public.

“We’re talking about getting that all spelled out in detail,” Hall said of the ins and outs of the proposed budget. “It will be about why we’re doing what we’re doing, what our projections are for the City and how we’ve used that to determine what we’ve proposed for the budget.”

He hopes such an explanation will make the budget more clear.

“I think that’s part of the issue,” Hall said. “There’s not enough transparency, so if I’ve failed on that part it’s on me.”

The Mayor currently receives a $500 monthly stipend and Council members do not receive any compensation. Hall said the plan came together as he and Mayor pro tem Liz Rundzieher worked to craft the new budget.

Resident, and Liberty Hill Economic Development Board Member, Jack Harkrider called on the Council Monday to facilitate more public discussion of the salary issue.

“I suggest the proposed mayor and council salaries and duties be broken out from the budget and presented for discussion in a public hearing,” Harkrider said. “I would like to know the reasoning behind the proposal, and be able to determine if a public vote is needed.”

Because Harkrider made his comments during the public comments portion of the meeting Council members were not allowed to respond to his request, but no indication was given that additional public meetings would be held on the issue.

Budget in brief
While the proposed tax rate has been lowered to $0.49 per $100 valuation from the current $0.50 per $100 valuation – in part to avoid a potential rollback election – the general fund budget has increased from the $2.96 million approved last year to a proposed amount of $4.2 million this year.

Liberty Hill currently has 37 employees, with vacancies in the City Administrator post and project manager/inspector position. The proposed budget has 17 positions added that were not in last year’s budget, including the vacant project manager/inspector position and recently filled Emergency Management Planner post that were on the books prior to the budget being proposed.

Some of the proposed positions will be covered partially through the general fund and partially through the water or wastewater funds.

The proposed administrative personnel budget more than doubled from last year at $505,420 to $1.125 million this year.

Contractual services was budgeted at $574,165 for the current year, but is expected to top $1.1 million in expenditures by year end. The proposed amount for next year is $692,051 — down considerably from current expenditures. The budget calls for an increase over last year’s budget in materials and supplies, but is nearly two-thirds less than the projected actual expenditures of $147,000.

The other area where personnel expenses are considerably higher is within the police department, where five full-time employees and one part-time employee make up a large portion of the city-wide staffing increase.

The projected personnel expense for the current year in the police department is just over $785,000, with next year’s budget coming in at $1.26 million.

The property tax rate approved last September for the current year’s budget, along with sales tax revenues and fees, was expected to generate an estimated $3.23 million for the general fund, and budgeted expenses were $2.96 million when it was approved.

The proposed budget for next year, set to be voted on Sept. 9, has a general fund with $4,237,617 in expenses, balanced by the same in projected revenues.

The proposal also shows a balanced budget of $4,505,862 for wastewater, $1,230,720 for City Sewer, and $1,431,325 for City Water.

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