Council, EDC go around and around on incentive programs

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By Rachel Madison

The City Council and Economic Development Corporation have yet to come to an agreement on what the best set of incentive programs are for the City of Liberty Hill.

Earlier in September, the Council unanimously passed a motion to nullify known or unknown ordinances that pertained to the EDC’s incentive programs, excluding the sign and façade programs already in place.

New incentive programs the EDC has been working on for the last several months were once again discussed at the Sept. 22 meeting. The programs, called the INVEST (Investment, Exterior, Signage, and Targeted Growth) incentive program and Booster incentive program, were initially presented to the Council in June. A newer program, just created by Executive Director Matt Powell, called the WaterMatch incentive program, was also discussed.

Council member Angela Jones said she wasn’t ready to approve the programs, because she wanted everything so clear that the average person could read about the programs and know exactly what they qualify for, so that “nothing is left up to the imagination.” Council member Kathy Canady agreed and said some of the requirements for the incentive programs are still subjective, which the Council has previously stated they didn’t want in the EDC’s incentive programs.

“You have to give yourself the ability to say no,” said Powell. “Inherently when anything enters a political process there is a certain amount of subjectivity because you do not have to approve everything. What if a business comes to you and checks all the boxes and suddenly you’re obligated to pay them. What if there’s a business that’s detrimental to the community?”

Powell added that if given more time, he could rewrite the incentive programs in a simpler language to run by the EDC Board and the City Council.

“If I didn’t hear any words and just saw action, that would be better,” said Council member Chris Pezold. “Right now it’s time to get the tax money back to the community. Somehow from 2003, [when the board was formed], it’s gone from community-focused projects to giving money to Starbucks. I think the WaterMatch program is a good start, but I think you need to go back to the drawing board. I want to see big ideas that are going to make the living experience better for people in this town.”

Council member Crystal Mancilla agreed.

“This is not a priority right now,” she said. “I’m not saying these programs won’t be needed later on, but that incentive money could be used to help the City in a greater format.”

Powell said he understood, and would focus on the WaterMatch program, as well as go back to the drawing board with the rest of the EDC to come up with programs the council and community need.

“We want to be part of the solutions in this community, because this a time of tremendous change in Liberty Hill,” he said.

Council voted 4-1, with Jones opposed, to approve the WaterMatch program, but not the INVEST or Booster programs.

The Council also unanimously approved calling a public hearing for amending a city ordinance to create a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) for Butler Farms. Julie Houston, of Orrick Law Firm, said the Texas Tax Code requires calling a public hearing if the TIRZ is amended. The amendment to be made to the TIRZ will be extending the term by four years, from 2048 to 2052, so that the TIRZ remains concurrent with the subdivision’s public improvement district bonds.

The Council additionally appointed five people to serve on the TIRZ Board for Butler Farms. The five people appointed include the mayor, city administrator, economic development director, developer Wyatt Henderson of MA Partners, and Council member Chris Pezold.

The Council unanimously adopted the City’s procurement policy, credit card policy, and authority to enter into an agreement or contract. Staff will be trained on the new policies, Hale said, which include purchasing authority guidelines for department heads, as well as more stringent policies on procurement cards. Purchases with procurement cards may not exceed $500, and the cardholder must retain all receipts and invoices and turn them in to the finance department. If documentation is missing, the card will be suspended, and the card holder will have to reimburse the City for the purchases that do not have receipts.

The Council also discussed a zone map amendment of 22 acres from multifamily residential and agricultural zoning to planned unit development (PUD) classification for a development of an apartment complex and community outreach center along the south side of RR 1869, between CR 282 and Barton Drive. Pezold recused himself from the discussion as he and his wife, Casey Pezold, are the landowners.

With this future project, a total of approximately 4 acres is set to be donated for park land, and the area would comply with the Dark Skies initiative the City is trying to launch. A hike and bike trail will also be constructed on the property. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the zone amendment 3-1 during their Sept. 14 meeting.

Canady said she wasn’t sold on the idea because adding a planned unit development will add too much density and traffic for the area. Jones disagreed and said the development would help the local businesses because there would be more people dining and shopping locally. Ultimately, the Council voted 2-2 to amend the zone map, with Mayor Liz Branigan voting in favor to break the tie.

The Council also authorized Hale to enter into a wastewater service agreement with Pezold for 3607 and 3751 RR 1869. This agreement opens up the ability to provide wastewater services on the west side of town as it gets constructed.

City Engineer Curtis Steger said the upfront cost of $3.9 million will be to the City, but that cost will be reimbursed as developments come in.

“The City won’t get wastewater service any other way,” he said. “If the City doesn’t move forward, each development would have to build their own lift station and force main with limited resources from existing infrastructure. The City can construct this within 18 months.”

Also at the meeting:
– Branigan presented a Hometown Hero award to Code Enforcement Officer Joey Wray for forming the volunteer group Grass & Roots to assist residents who are financially or physically unable to keep their properties up to code.
– The council discussed the need to reinvigorate the Downtown Beautification Committee, which has not been meeting in recent months due to a lack of quorum. Council voted 4-1, with Canady opposed, to appoint Jodi McCumber of Texas Honey Hole; Tambra Prince of Main Street Social; and Lonnie Wendling of Agape BBQ to the board. Two other officers still need to be elected, and City staff is working on a meeting schedule.
– Council directed staff to issue a request for proposals for mowing services for City-owned lots and rights-of-way.
– Hale said the City received funding of $488,000 for a Community Development Block Grant, which will be used to construct more sidewalks in old town. This will be the third phase of that project.
– Unanimously accepted the recommendation from the EDC to approve a sign grant application for Allied Stone, valued at $5,000.
– The Council directed Hale to hire a human resources director for the City.
– The Council approved a recommendation from the EDC to appoint Tiffany Stillwell as an EDC director for a two-year term effective Oct. 1 and expiring Sept. 30, 2023.
– Council approved the annexation of five acres situated at 8660 SH 29 West, just west of Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
– Council directed City staff to change signage at City Hall and the municipal court building to be compliant with the new state law that allows constitutional carry.
– Council asked staff to amend the ordinance regarding meeting times. Council plans to meet at 6 p.m. with the executive session not to go past 7 p.m., allowing for executive session to increase from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
– Council directed Liberty Hill Police Chief Royce Graeter to bring to Council the amount of money he would need in his budget to pay his officers the current market rate. Presently, LHPD officers make 85 percent of the market rate. Graeter will bring these numbers to a future meeting for discussion.
– Council discussed how the City could work toward forming a collaborative effort with the Liberty Hill Development Foundation for the Sculpture Park and its festival. Communications Director Katie Amsler will bring back some ideas to the next council meeting on how the City can support the event.

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