Council gives green light to downtown roundabout, again

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By Rachel Madison

The City Council voted Sept. 1 to move forward with plans to construct a roundabout on Loop 332 and CR 279, directly in front of Wetzel Park and the Water Tower parking lot.

Plans to construct a roundabout in this location aren’t new—past city councils have voted to construct a roundabout here and later voted to cancel the same project due to its low priority—but current council says it is needed more than ever due to the ever-increasing traffic in the area.

Mike O’Neal, of the City’s engineering firm Steger Bizzell, provided two options for what the future of that intersection could be. In addition to the roundabout, he also showed council what a “tee intersection” would look like.

While the “tee intersection” option was more affordable, coming in at an estimated $895,704, compared to a cost estimate of $1.75 million for the roundabout, Council agreed it didn’t seem like a long-term solution, especially because of the difficulties a standard intersection would cause with downtown Liberty Hill’s one-way streets, such as Monroe.

“We need to take into consideration the flow of traffic in our community,” said Council member Angela Jones. “A three-way stop there is going to stop the traffic, and that’s not a long-term solution. I believe we would incur additional costs in the future for a stoplight or something there. I wish [the tee intersection] option was more viable, but I don’t think it is. The roundabout is aesthetically pleasing as you enter our city, and it will keep traffic flowing.”

Council member Chris Pezold made a motion to approve the roundabout concept. The motion was seconded by Council member Crystal Mancilla. The motion was approved 4-1, with Council member Kathy Canady opposed due to concerns for pedestrian safety.

A timeline for the project has not been set but will take place once the 2021-22 fiscal year’s budget is in place.

Also at the meeting, interim finance director Misti Hancock notified the Council that the public hearing to adopt the tax rate and budget needed to be moved from Sept. 8 to Sept. 22, because the tax code requires public hearings to be within seven days of the tax vote. The Council used its Sept. 8 meeting to discuss the draft budget line item by line item and will hold the public hearings and vote on both the tax rate and budget on Sept. 22. The public hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. at the municipal court.

Hancock added that while the 2020 audit still won’t be complete before the budget needs to be approved, she and the auditors have made significant headway with the final necessary items.

“We’ve made enough headway that [the auditors] will get us some draft financial info next week,” she said, adding that she is also going through the City’s entire roster of bank account, bond accounts and more.

“Soon I will be able to share some ballpark numbers with council,” Hancock said. “After the audit and the budget, that will be the next thing I focus on. I will be sending council a lot of updated things and will be meeting with each department head to go through their finances specifically. I think by October we will be able to tell you exactly what money we have and what money has been spent. We are making huge progress from a finance perspective.”

During the meeting, the council also discussed a salary survey conducted for all employees.

“The survey puts things in perspective on what the market value is and shows a true representation of what our salaries are within the city,” said City Administrator Lacie Hale. “Most positions get paid 90 percent of the market value, besides a couple of police and public works positions. This survey is just for information purposes to show how we compare.”

Jones said while the survey is helpful, she wants to use it as a jumping off point to make sure employees who are making above the market rate are on a salary freeze, and those who are not are offered a program to increase their salaries based on experience and performance.

“I don’t think we should be giving any arbitrary raises,” she said. “From what I’ve seen so far, salary increases in the city do not have any evidence given to them. It’s ‘you’re working a whole lot and trying to do a good job, so we’re going to throw money at you.’ We need to look at the employees being overworked and provide them support, not just give them a raise.”

City staff will work with council to come up with a plan of action for future salary increases, particularly for those positions in the police and public works departments that are not paid at the market rate.

In other business, the Council, which also acts as the Board of Adjustments for the City of Liberty Hill, approved a request for a sign variance at O’Reilly Auto Parts’ new store at 12950 SH 29. The Unified Development Code allows for a 45-square-feet maximum of wall signage. The BOA unanimously granted a variance to allow 63.29 square feet of wall signage on the building. The sign will read “O’Reilly Auto Parts”.

Also last week, the Council:
• Heard a presentation from Joey Wray, code enforcement officer, about his role within the city and the current and future maintenance plans for rights-of-way, easements, and more, as well as the procedures for communicating these codes to citizens.
• Heard a report from Hale on various projects ongoing across the city. The city has completed installation of speed humps and signage for Wetzel Park to prevent traffic from cutting through that parking lot. The City’s total cost for canceling the community center project is $7,500. The wastewater plant’s expansion startup began Sept. 8 and will take 45 to 60 days to be running at 100 percent.
• Unanimously passed a resolution to adopt a rate review mechanism tariff with Atmos Energy.
• Authorized city staff to issue a request for proposals for water and wastewater treatment chemicals, to solicit bids for the best value to the city on the cost of those chemicals.
• Approved the prior passage of unsigned ordinances from the calendar year 2016. The ordinances’ forms are being corrected so that they can be codified. Calendar years 2020 through 2017 are complete. City staff will next complete calendar year 2015.
• Unanimously approved a motion to allow for agenda items to be submitted until noon on the Thursday prior to each meeting.
• Unanimously approved a motion to allow for action to be taken at workshops and special meetings.

The council meeting consisted of two executive sessions.

Following the second session, the council voted unanimously to authorize the city attorney to use eminent domain to acquire a permanent waterline easement interest across 0.104 acres and a temporary construction easement interest across 0.208 acres at a property owned by Junction Storage, LLC, located at 400 US Hwy. 183, which is needed for the construction of proposed wastewater system facility improvements.

The next meeting of the city council will take place on Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m.

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