Council moves closer to approving fee hikes



The long-scheduled public hearing on proposed impact fee increases came and went Monday without community input as the City Council got its first look in a public meeting at potential rate hikes that would take effect Feb. 1.

The Council is set to vote on the proposed increases at its next meeting Jan. 27. If it supports the proposals, the wastewater impact fee would increase to $4,000. The water impact fee would increase to $5,500 Feb. 1, with subsequent hikes on Jan. 1 of the next two years to $6,500 in 2021 and $7,037 in 2022, the maximum allowed for the City.

These are fees new customers pay when initially establishing water or wastewater service to a property with the City.

Currently the water service impact fee is $3,500, and the wastewater fee for commercial properties is $4,500 and new homes is $3,500.

The rate increase is being considered to help fund future infrastructure improvements for both systems.

“Based on the CIP projects (capital improvement) approved back in October of last year, in order for us to stay on track with those projects this is where we need to be at,” said Mayor Rick Hall. “Even with the increases we are still very close with other cities. We were low as far as what our impact fees cost.”

No other members of the Council made comments or asked questions about the potential increases.

In November, the Council unanimously approved the 10-year capital improvement plan for its water and wastewater services, a critical step in determining if and when impact fees should be changed.

The Impact Fee Committee proposed $61 million in water infrastructure improvements and just under $76 million in wastewater infrastructure improvements.

Projections show the annual growth rate in water customers is 10.2 percent, reaching 1,958 connections by 2028, while wastewater service is expected to expand from 4,413 customers currently to 13,089 by 2028.

Projects include the current and another future expansion of the current wastewater plant, as well as a new Northfork Wastewater Plant. On the wastewater side there are a number of lift station improvements and capacity upgrades planned.

On the water side there are many capacity upgrades for increased population as well as fire suppression, but the high-dollar items include a drinking water reservoir, raw water intake and pump station and a direct reuse drinking water plant.

Chamber agreement

The Council moved forward in the process of establishing an agreement with the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce with a unanimous vote Monday, but the nature and any explanation of the agreement being lined out was not made available.

The agenda item read “Discussion and possible action on a proposed agreement between the City of Liberty Hill and the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce for us of the Fowler Building”, but was moved to executive session on a motion by Council member Kathy Canady.

When the Council returned to open session, Mayor Pro Tem Liz Rundzieher made the motion to move forward.

“I would like to ask the attorney to draw up an agreement between the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Liberty Hill as we discussed in the executive session and have the contract at the next meeting this month,” she motioned.

The Council approved the motion without discussion or explanation of the details of the agreement.

In a Wednesday telephone interview, Hall declined to provide more details of the agreement the Council intends to present.

“That’s when we’re going to discuss it in open (session),” Hall said of the agreement. “We are discussing with our legal counsel on how we want the agreement structured. Then we are going to have to vote on it that we want to send this agreement to the Chamber. Then they will have to vote to accept it, so this is not a one and done process.”

Hall defended the lack of details so far in the process and said they would be available at the next Council meeting when the Council plans to vote on the agreement.

“It will be brought back to the Council on the 27th to vote on and we will do all that in open session,” he said.

In January 2019, then Chamber of Commerce President Kim Sanders requested during the public comments portion of a Council meeting that the City consider a partnership with the Chamber that would allow the organization to have office space and operate out of the Fowler Building once the building was complete.

A number of Council members at the time spoke out against the idea, and the Council voted 4-0, including Rundzieher, to deny use of the building to the Chamber.

“When we purchased the Fowler Building, we did that with the understanding we were going to use it as an art museum, then we had the Chamber come, and somebody intimated to them they could use the Fowler House as offices,” then Council member Ron Rhea said. “What we voted on was to use that as an art museum and an archive for the City of Liberty Hill and when we have special events we could use that building. It is not to house the EDC or the Chamber or anybody else. I’d like to reaffirm what we originally voted on, regardless of promises that were made to the chamber from whomever.”

Hall served as Chamber of Commerce President up until shortly after his announcement to run for Mayor in February 2018. Hall’s spouse, Jerri Hall, currently serves as the Chamber’s Executive Director.

One local resident, former Council member Liz Branigan, spoke on the issue during public comments, imploring the Council to not enter into an agreement that would provide office space to the Chamber.

“We purchased the Fowler House and we purchased and restored it in order to maintain our commitment to the arts,” she said. “It is what sets us apart and it’s what has made us special for years and years. I think we need to keep the Fowler House committed to the arts as what it was intended for a couple of years ago. It can be used for many different community groups. The Chamber of Commerce can hold its meetings there and then clear out for another community group.”
Job descriptions

Job descriptions were approved by the Council for its members and the Mayor, spelling out the core responsibilities and time commitment expected of those serving on the Council.

“This is basically what we’re trying to do as part of the Council’s fiduciary duties to the City because these positions will be a stipend position and will be earning pay for these positions going forward after this next election,” Hall said.

The responsibilities include review and approval of the annual budget, setting a tax rate, entering legal contracts, borrowing funds and establishing long and short term priorities among others. The duties spelled out for the Mayor include the same plus management responsibilities over City staff and establishing committees.

The requirements approved call for a minimum of 10 hours per week of dedicated time for Council members and 32 hours per week for the Mayor. It was unclear how those hours will be tracked or monitored.

“We are looking at several different items here to track those hours,” Hall said. “We haven’t got it nailed down yet. Of course we have until May to figure out how we’re going to do that. A lot of it is going to be in-office time we are spending, especially for the Mayor.”

When the Council approved the new fiscal year budget in September 2019, it included an annual stipend for Council members of $12,000 and $40,000 for the Mayor.

No sitting member of the Council will be eligible for the compensation until the next election for their position.

Community Center
The Council approved an architectural proposal for the new Community Center planned for downtown and will pay EA Architecture and Planning of Georgetown $19,975 to do the design work, manage bidding, and contract administration for the project.

The agreement includes both phases of design and engineering work for the project.

Hall first proposed building a community center on property located near the northwest corner of Loop 332 and RR 1869, which was purchased from Williamson County late last year.

Originally, the hope was to secure a grant for the project by creating an emergency shelter, but instead, Hall said the former county barn on the property will be refurbished for the project.

Once completed, the center will offer a new home to the Over the Hill Gang, and allow its current home behind Parker’s Market to be turned into downtown parking.

The 30-foot by 45-foot structure on the site now will be redone in the first phase of the project, with an expansion planned later. Hall said he expects the price tag of both phases together to be about $500,000.

“We’ve got this broken out in phases,” Hall said. “Phase one will be to renovate the existing building we have right now. Phase two will be building an expansion on that building of another 60 feet.”

Budget amendment
To close out the finances on the 2018-2019 budget year, the Council approved a final budget amendment that showed a total of $5.4 million in general fund revenues and $5.5 million in general fund expenses.

Those numbers were considerably higher than the originally approved revenue and expense projections of $3.2 million and $2.9 million respectively.

The increased income was attributed to higher than anticipated sales tax and development revenue.

According to information included in the Council packet, the increased expenses were attributed to “staffing needs for Finance Director, Emergency Management Department, Utility Billing and Police.” Also cited were payout of former City Administrator Greg Boatright’s contract and the contribution to Liberty Hill ISD for the establishment of its police department.

Revenues and expenses for each of the six separate budgets in the City were adjusted up with the amendment.

“This was the budget that ended before this Council approved the budget we are currently in now,” Hall said. “This was the budget created in ‘18 that ran through September of ‘19.”

Pool contract
The Liberty Hill Swim Center moved a step closer to reality with the approval of an addendum to the contract with Halff & Associates to manage the bid process and construction phase of the project.

Halff & Associates was granted the contract for the design phase of the project in August 2017 and the Swim Center design that was approved in 2018.

The contract for the additional services is in the amount not to exceed $72,200.

Brian Binkowski with Halff & Associates said the project could go out for bid as early as February. The anticipated construction time frame is nine months.

The construction cost is set to be about $1.8 million, with part of that covered through a $500,000 grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife.

P&Z Appointment
Planned changes to the Planning & Zoning Commission were finalized Monday with the appointment of Jared King as an alternate commissioner.

King currently serves as the President of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and is General Manager at Cook-Walden/Davis Funeral Home, Weed Corley Fish Funeral Home in Leander and Austin Cremations.

The Council also approved scheduling two meetings per month for the commission, to be held on the first and third Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Speed limits
Drivers will soon be slowing down as they travel Loop 332. The Council voted to lower the speed limit on the entirety of the Loop to 30 miles per hour, excluding current school zones.

“If you can go 40 you’re going to go 50, so if you can go 30 maybe you’re only going to go 40,” Canady said of her suggestion to lower the speed limit. “We have the absolute right to control the speed limit on the loop. I talked to our Chief of Police and he was supportive of us talking about changing this.”

The Council will hold a public hearing on the change at the next Council meeting and will post public notices regarding the effective date of the change.

The Council also approved drafting a resolution asking the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) to conduct a warrant study to possibly lower the speed limit on RR 1869 through the city as well.

Council member Steve McIntosh was appointed to be the point person in contacting TXDoT on the issue.

Monument signs
The Council got its first look at proposed new monument signs to welcome visitors to Liberty Hill.

The proposal discussed included three sign options with a combination of various stone and metal that measures approximately 20 feet wide by just over eight feet tall at its tallest point.

The sign will be LED lit and solar to avoid having to provide electricity to the site. It will also include a water storage tank inside the column on the left end that can be used for drip irrigation for the landscaping.

The Council approved the first option with a few modifications, with the plan being that Brian Binkowski with Halff & Associates will bring back the modified version for final approval along with cost estimates. One key modification will be to include “Est. 1999” under the city name.

Hall said there was no preset budget for the project going in and no estimate of costs available until Binkowski brings it back to the Council.

“I have no clue on what that would even cost,” Hall said. “In order for us to get a good estimate we need to get a good design so it is a step by step process to get where we need to be. We’ve got the designs and we’ll hopefully get estimates and be able to make a decision and move forward with that.”

The City plans to move the existing monument signs to other entries to the City on RR 1869.