Council reaffirms future of Fowler Building



Two weeks after the idea was presented to the Liberty Hill City Council that perhaps the Chamber of Commerce might house an office in the Fowler Building upon its completion, the Council left no doubt it did not support the idea.

City staff sought clarification Monday on what the future plans are for the building.

“We have the art event coming up, we have given the contractor a drop-dead date of May 18 and we are sure he is going to be able to deliver on that, but we wanted to see if the Council had any other input into what the use for that building might ultimately be,” said City Administrator Greg Boatright.

Council Member Ron Rhea said the Fowler Building should be used for its original intent specified when the City purchased it.

“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,” 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.”

Council Member Liz Branigan echoed Rhea’s comments before the Council voted unanimously (with Wendell McLeod absent) to reaffirm that original intent.

Boatright said there would be space in the building for groups needing meeting space.

Chamber of Commerce President Kim Sanders requested during the public comments portion of the Jan. 14 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 project is complete.

“When you consider what you’re going to do with the Fowler Building, we the Chamber would like to house an office in there, coupled with maybe a visitors center and possibly – at your direction – share an employee with a visitors center employee and our part-time employee,” she said. “We’d like to move to the Fowler Building and I’d just like to put it out there and ask you to consider it.”

No previous public discussions of possible uses for the building have included talk of the Chamber of Commerce being housed in the building.

Water rate date
The Feb. 25 Council meeting has been circled as the date to consider the proposed new water and wastewater rates as presented by Willdan Financial Services in November and revisited again Monday in a second presentation to the Council.

The recommendation was for a two-year rate plan that would increase water rates for in-city residential users by $2.50 to $3.50 per month in 2019 and again in 2020 based on usage. Wastewater service alone for all customers would increase between $5 and $6.50 per month in 2019 and again in 2020. Customers on city water and wastewater, depending on usage, would see about an $8 to $10 combined increase per month in 2019 and $8.50 to $11 increase in 2020. Any proposed rate change is subject to approval by the City Council.

The rate study looked at long-range infrastructure and planning needs, including an estimated $98.9 million in expansion of services and upgrades to both the water and wastewater systems over the next decade.

The last increase for Liberty Hill was in January 2017 and for water customers only.

Downtown traffic light
During the city project update, Pix Howell of Diverse Planning and Development, raised the question of signalizing and adding left turn bays at the intersection of Loop 332 and RR 1869 downtown as one option to relieve congestion at the intersection, which has increased since the one-way streets plan went into effect.

He said the idea had been one option early on in downtown transportation planning discussions, but focus at the time was put on the Stubblefield Lane extension instead.

“At the time the decision was made to really press on with Stubblefield, because Stubblefield would relieve a lot of the congestion at the four-way,” Howell said. “That said, you could really do both.”

Doing so would remove a few parking spots in the area of the intersection, and the City has made adding parking a priority, but the belief is that the parking being added in other places would balance the loss.

Boatright said he supports putting a signal at the intersection. No guidance moving forward was provided by the Council and no timetable was given to bring the issue back for further discussion.

It was announced Monday that the City has hired Jonny Ubelhor as its new building inspector.

“Jonny comes to us by way of Georgetown and Hutto and has been an inspector for 14 years,” Boatright said. “We are looking forward to having him on and bringing his experience to Liberty Hill.”

Ubelhor replaces Elias Carrasco, who joined the staff last Spring, but left in January for a position in Burnet.

In its search for a code enforcement officer, the City has struggled to find qualified applicants, so the new plan is to hire and train someone for the job. Boatright said the stipulation to training someone would be a two-year employment contract upon completion of the training.

“We looked at all the applications and we feel like we don’t have one, so we are going to train one,” Boatright said. “We have an applicant we feel like we can bring in and train.”

Committee limits
A question was raised about the intent and structure of the City’s Legislative Advocacy Committee after Mayor Rick Hall had mentioned in a previous meeting that other community members were being included on the committee, outside of those designated from the Council when the committee was formed.

City Attorney Dottie Palumbo said the committee should not include other groups, but should focus on City issues.

“I noticed in your minutes the report was that the City of Liberty Hill Governmental Advocacy Affairs Committee also talked about adding a school board member and somebody else from the ministerial alliance,” Palumbo said. “One of the reasons the Council formed the committee was to advocate for City issues. If you open it up to other groups you are going to be blending your issues with other groups.”

The idea of adding anyone to the committee outside of a Council decision was something Rhea said should not be allowed.

“I think anything that is going to go outside the scope of that committee without coming to the Council first is illegitimate and shouldn’t even be considered,” he said.

The Council voted unanimously to leave the committee as originally constructed and stipulated any potential additions to the committee would have to be voted on by the Council.