Council considers budget that includes pay increases

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By SHELLY WILKISON

The Liberty Hill City Council is considering adoption of a $1.8 million budget that includes a 3 percent pay increase for city staff, funding for a code enforcement officer and monies for the development of pocket parks.

Funding for the fiscal 2014 spending plan will come primarily from property taxes. The Council voted earlier this month to keep the tax rate the same as the current rate — $0.536426 per $100 valuation. Because property values within the city boundaries are up, the present rate will generate $16,000 more in revenue.

Monday was the first of two public hearings on the tax rate, which exceeds the rollback rate, but no one addressed the Council on the issue.

In addition to projected increases in ad valorem revenue, the City is projecting increased revenue from permits and sales tax, bringing the total revenue for the General Fund to $2.2 million.

On Monday, Chief Financial Officer Amber Lewis walked council members through some portions of the proposed budget. It was the Council’s second look at the spending plan. Some funds were previously discussed during a budget workshop on August 11.

Concerned about the police department’s ability to attract and retain experienced officers, Mrs. Lewis said sworn personnel will receive the across-the-board 3 percent pay increase plus an additional raise resulting from a bump in the pay scale proposed by Chief Randy Williams.

The new pay scale increases the entry level pay for a patrol officer from $29,400 to $35,000 — making Liberty Hill police salaries slightly more competitive with departments similar in size.

The proposed budget also calls for the purchase of two Ford Explorer Police Interceptor vehicles, as well as funds for insurance and equipment for two additional reserve (unpaid) officers.

Also notable in the fiscal 2014 budget are allocations for downtown enhancement grants from the Economic Development Corp. The EDC budgeted $100,000 for grants to improve sidewalks, facades and support downtown events. Additional monies were set aside for sponsorship of the Liberty Hill Pro Rodeo and Liberty Hill Christmas Festival with possible addition of a trail of lights at Lions Foundation Park and an Independence Day celebration.

In the area of new personnel, the proposal calls for the addition of a code enforcement officer and a public works laborer.

The Council is scheduled to hold its second public hearing on the tax rate at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 8. Following the hearing, the panel is expected to vote on the proposed budget.

In other business Monday, the Council heard from developers of a senior independent living apartment complex regarding inconsistencies they found in permitting fees charged by the City.

Breck Kean of Prestwick Developers, the company developing Liberty Manor apartments, said the price the project is being charged for fees is about $200,000 more than the fees defined in the city’s Unified Development Code (UDC). He asked for an explanation as to the difference and the methodology used to calculate the fees.

“We’re not here asking you to waive any fees,” he said. “But there is a huge discrepancy. If we have to pay $200,000 in impact fees, which I don’t think we should, that money will have to come out of what we will put on the ground.”

Mrs. Lewis suggested the discussion be continued at a future meeting when the City’s engineers are present to defend the methodology of the fees that have been set.

The Council discussed with its legal counsel Monday the possibility of creating a Board of Adjustment that would consider appeals to city staff decisions on fees. No action was taken on the issue.

Also Monday, Director of Public Works Wayne Bonnet recommended the City move to Stage 2 water restrictions. He said water well levels are low. City Manager Greg Boatright said the city is on an 18-month timeframe for obtaining water from the City of Leander through pipelines that will be constructed on Bagdad Road.

Councilmember Ron Rhea was not present Monday.

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