Council considers hiring contracted financial manager
By Rachel Madison
The City Council held a lengthy discussion during their meeting July 7 about the need for hiring a financial management consultant to assist the City in a variety of financial matters, like completing last fiscal year’s audit.
Council member Crystal Mancilla asked Wayne McKethan, president of The Financial City Manager, to present to the council on services he could provide to the city regarding financial management.
“I thought there was a need for a couple of different reasons,” Mancilla said. “We are growing so fast right now, and when I vote for something, I want to do it with clear conscious. Also, with [Wayne] being educated, he can educate a new council. Three of us are new to city government, politics and how money is used in the budget. Also, what is concerning me is the 2019-20 audit isn’t done. He can come in and help with that.”
City Treasurer Becky Wilkins said the 2019-20 audit isn’t completed due to the pandemic and the fact that she was working shorthanded for 14 months due to an employee being out on FMLA. She also added that she just found out the head auditor over the city’s audit lost her husband recently, so a new assignment will likely have to be made. She estimated the audit will be completed in two to three weeks. McKethon said most audits should be done in February.
“I am interested in helping you if we can determine what you need,” he added. “This would be a contracted position. I would provide expertise and independence and will look at everything [financially] to get to the truth and see how efficient we can be. Then I’ll make recommendations based on what I see.”
McKethan said his methodology is to first interview City staff, council members, the Mayor, approved media and other outside participants to determine trouble spots. Then, he will analyze all City financials and research and determine potential areas of concern, like the current uncompleted audit. Next, he will document his findings, develop financial strategies and present findings and recommended solutions and a roadmap on how to get those issues fixed. Lastly, he will provide oversight as the City develops and implements a plan.
“You always have to have transparency in your financials and also a real ability to convince your citizens and keep the trust of citizens,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to show this and present it and be able to come out with answers to questions.”
Mayor Liz Branigan said it’s “gossip on the street” that the City has money missing, its finances are in chaos, and she believes the City does need help. Council member Kathy Canady disagreed.
“I think our budgets have been balanced, and our tax rates have stayed the same the last couple of years,” she said. “I would love to look into 2015 through 2018. If I had my preference, I’d look into the past.”
Mancilla said hiring McKethan would allow the City to get in a good place financially, and Branigan added that he could help the City develop different processes to streamline the financial system.
Council member Tony DeYoung said he was more comfortable with a black-and-white approach to McKethan’s roles and responsibilities, meaning he wants to know specifically what McKethan would be working on before hiring him. McKethan said he wouldn’t know what issues he would be working on until he conducted his interviews and research.
The Council decided to discuss the potential hiring of McKethan in an executive session with City Attorney Alan Bojorquez and plans to direct staff to have a meeting with McKethan in the next few weeks to discuss the scope of work he would do for the City. No action was taken.
Road projects were also a hot topic during the meeting, with officials discussing three different roads that are set to be updated.
Engineer Curtis Steger gave a brief update on results of a meeting the City had with Mojo’s owners regarding the changes that will be made to Brown Bridge Road. In addition to closing the northernmost entrance to the parking lot, the City will also add a median that will allow right and left turns from northbound Brown Bridge Road. Another change will be to the parking lot exit, where left and right turn lanes will be clearly painted. In addition, more delineators will be added to the road to increase safety. These updates have increased the estimated cost of the project from $17,967 to $30,574.
“This is just a rough estimate,” said City Administrator Lacie Hale. “We did move forward and order delineators and signage at a cost of $4,600 so far. With Mojos’ planned improvements, there could be some cost sharing opportunities.”
The Council also discussed the intersection of Loop 332 and CR 279, and what the best thing to do there is to improve traffic flow and safety. Steger said he believes the most efficient and effective design is a roundabout.
“Drivers will only have to stop or slow down if somebody else is already in the interchange, and they will only have to look one direction for conflicts,” he said. “Overall it’s a better design. It’ll move more vehicles through and be safer, and it will also be an entry point for the City to put monument signage or landscaping as a gateway coming into town from CR 279.”
Steger said roundabouts do come with some challenges, like drivers learning how to use them properly, but he said informational videos can be posted on city websites and social media to help people learn. The roundabout was originally designed to incorporate with Wetzel Park and the downtown parking lot in 2018, but a contract was never awarded. City staff will be looking into what the bids for that project were and see what the pricing is for the project today.
The third road the Council discussed was the possible extension of Stubblefield Road. Because of the morning traffic created by those traveling to school at Liberty Hill Elementary as well as work, Council member Chris Pezold said adding a small section of road north of RM 1869 up to Loop 332 could be a big traffic relief.
“I think it’s worth starting a conversation with the [Liberty Hill Independent] School District and [Fellowship] Church,” Pezold said. “That small section of road could get everyone going into the queue line at the elementary school.”
Staff was directed to reach out to the potentially affected parties to see if a discussion could be started on this extension project.
Council also discussed amending the city’s wastewater certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) boundary for a proposed development on US Hwy 183. The proposed development is not within city limits or the city’s ETJ. Concerns were raised regarding the wastewater treatment plant’s capacity to service a new development. Council ultimately decided not to take action, citing the need to do more research on both sides to understand what the capacity limitations would be, and if the developers are willing to be annexed into the city in the future.
Wilkins presented a “clean up item” from several years ago regarding a payment the City owes to the Stonewall Ranch subdivision. When the City purchased the wastewater treatment plant from LCRA in 2012, the city also took on the fee that LCRA had agreed to pay Stonewall Ranch as sections of the subdivision were completed.
“We owe 70 percent of wastewater costs per section completed, which is approximately $200,000 per section,” said Wilkins. “These are financial obligations that were not taken care of by previous staff. Of the $750,000 that we do owe them, there is roughly $600,000 that came in from a bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016. We were able to set that aside, so out of wastewater funds, we [have to pay] $150,633.66 to fulfill our contractual obligation to the Stonewall Ranch subdivision.”
Sections one through four were paid for by LCRA, and since the City took over the plant in 2012, sections five through eight have been completed. These payments were not taken care of previously because of “incompetence of previous staff,” Wilkins said.
“They’ve been trying to get their money for several years now,” she said. “Going forward, as they complete each section, Planning will prepare the documents, bring them to council for acceptance, and if council accepts them, they will be forwarded to finance to be paid in a timely manner.”
Wilkins added that going forward, these payments will be planned for in the City’s annual budget. The motion passed unanimously to pay the amount due.
The Council also unanimously approved a credit to the Stonewall Ranch subdivision because of an ongoing error made in 2016 when the living unit equivalents (LUEs) weren’t set up appropriately.
“No reduction was made each month based on the number of completed dwellings, so they were overbilled $319,735.65,” Wilkins said. “We are asking for a one-time credit to their account to be applied and going forward billing will be adjusted monthly based on the actual number of existing LUEs.”
Pezold started a discussion with the Council about halting LUE payments for Main Street Social until ordinances related to LUEs for downtown restaurants are researched.
“[Owner] James Prince came here and spoke his peace about not getting a satisfactory response from the [Economic Development Corporation],” Pezold said.
He added that he thought a downtown revitalization project started by the EDC called for a max of four LUEs.
“We’re having trouble finding that ordinance to see if it does exist or not, but given when I’ve studied the EDC’s charter, everything [Prince] is doing meets that and until we make sure he is being treated fairly, I want to put a halt on his payments. He has made one of five payments so far. Let’s find out what’s going on before he goes in and pays more.”
The City is currently charging Main Street Social for 27 LUEs.
“All I want is a fair playing field, and right now things don’t seem right,” Pezold said.
Canady said suspending his LUE payments wouldn’t be fair to him or the city.
“I’m not sure we’re doing him a favor by suspending payments,” she said. “He owes us money.”
Branigan said she agreed that a deferment of payment was a good idea so that the staff has time to research if it’s being “absolutely fair and transparent.” The Council unanimously passed a motion to allow Prince to defer payments for 60 days while staff researches ordinances related to downtown LUEs.
Planning & Zoning
Two positions on the Planning & Zoning Commission have been expired since October 2020, but those serving in the positions have remained on the commission. Council member Angela Jones said the two members — Wes Griffin and Brian Williams — either needed to be reappointed or replaced. The Council ultimately voted to reappoint Griffin and replace Williams with John Mathiason, because Williams lives in the Georgetown ETJ, not the Liberty Hill ETJ or Liberty Hill city limits, and Mathiason has more than 20 years of planning experience, but not without some push back from Canady, who voted against the appointment.
“I’d like to say again, we have people in the city limits who would like an opportunity to be on the board they are governed by, and again we have chosen not to do that,” she said. “The citizens within city limits are still in the minority. We had the best and brightest on this board for 10 years. It’s a moot point. We are going to continue to tell our citizens, by this action, that they’re not the best and brightest.”
“We are not saying that at all,” DeYoung said.
The Council also discussed removing council members from having the ability to be voting members of city boards and commissions.
“[As council,] we already have the highest authority in the city,” Jones said. “Whatever is brought before these boards comes to us anyway. I would encourage all of us to listen in to these meetings, but we should be voting members.”
Currently, the only council member who sits on another board is Canady, who is on the Parks Board, but also previously asked to be appointed to the EDC Board. Canady agreed that removing council members from boards was a best practice after listening to advice from Bojorquez.
“There is no legal impediment that keeps council from being on another board, but to be a voting member is very rare,” he said. “Normally, best practice is that the council member is a liaison to interact with and provide feedback and input.”
Council tabled the item and directed staff to investigate the liaison approach.
Also at the meeting, the Council:
– Appointed Jones to be the council representative to the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG).
– Unanimously approved the Parks and Recreation Board to purchase a $5,000 playground for Central Park and $13,000 of Freenotes harmony musical playground equipment for Liberty Hill City Park.
– Approved—with the exception of Pezold who had to recuse himself as the property owner—a resolution to accept a letter of intent for approximately nine acres located at 900 Stubblefield Road to be donated to the City of Liberty Hill for public use, such as park land.
– Tasked city staff with coming up with an oak wilt awareness campaign and education materials to help the community understand oak wilt and its detriment to trees.
– Unanimously approved a workshop schedule for the remainder of the summer to discuss various topics including department budgets.
– Unanimously approved city staff to start recording and streaming all board and commission meetings online.
– Directed staff to write a policy and host a brief training on how to properly use audio equipment during all council, board and commissions meetings. City staff will look into what other cities do for these types of trainings.
– Discussed the change from using YouTube for streaming live meetings to using a software called Granicus, which will allow for minutes to be tied to the video for easier access for the public. As of this week, the Granicus software is being used for all meetings.
The meeting adjourned at 10:51 p.m. and included two executive sessions. The next regular council meeting will be held July 14 at 6:30 p.m.