Council remembers tragedy, welcomes Schlotzsky’s, advances projects
By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
City Council’s meeting this week began on a solemn tone, as officials recognized a local family that lost two children to a drunk driver in 2015 in a tragedy that shook the community.
The rest of Monday’s meeting saw expected headway on a number of ongoing city initiatives.
The Council approved the retention of a marketing firm for a long-discussed plan to help Liberty Hill attract businesses. The police department introduced a new officer, whose presence will allow for 24-hour patrol. And Schlotzsky’s received approval for a development permit.
A surprise came at the end of the meeting when Councilman Wendell McLeod, citing financial concerns, opposed a motion to hire a new city planner to fill a slot that had initially been reserved in the budget for a city engineer. The discussion was ultimately tabled.
All members were present Monday except Ron Rhea and Elizabeth Branigan.
Recognizing the Draper Family
On a night in April 2015, Crystal Draper and her four children were waiting at a turn signal when a drunk driver with repeat offenses struck their vehicle. Koby Draper, 15, and Kirsten Draper, 10, were killed. Her two other children were seriously injured.
The ceremony began with a recollection of the night by Officer Robert Fox, who was the first to respond to the crash scene outside the city limits. As a parent, Fox said, that night has continued to deeply affect him.
Police Chief Maverick Campbell presented a tearful Crystal Draper with a large plaque bestowing the title of “Honorary Officer” on the four children. He then gave her four American flags. Each had been flown above the U.S. Capitol, and were being given to the family by Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, who also attached a letter.
Mayor Connie Fuller announced that, “in honor of the Draper family, and in loving memory,” Feb. 1st and August 24th would henceforth be recognized in Liberty Hill as Kirsten Draper and Koby Draper Day, respectively. These were the children’s birthdays.
“I encourage all families in this area to honor their memory by investing in the children of this community and thereby preserving the future of the city of Liberty Hill,” Fuller said in the proclamation.
Afterwards, Campbell began his monthly report from the police department by noting that there had been three arrests for DWIs in January.
Officer Graeter to bump patrol
up to 24-hour service
Campbell introduced Royce Graeter as the department’s newest officer. Graeter previously served for many years in the Burnet Police Department.
The addition of Graeter will allow the department to move to a 24-hour patrol by the end of the month, Campbell reported.
Campbell also announced that the police department had sucessfully relocated to a new address at 1120 Loop 332. Previously, the discovery of mold and other structural deficits in the previous building on State Highway 29 had forced the department to temporarily locate to a small space adjacent to the municipal court offices.
Schlotzsky’s comes to town
The Council unanimously approved a site development permit in a largely ceremonial process to welcome the new owner and management staff of Schlotzsky’s.
The store will be located at 1316 W. SH 29, next to the Union State Bank. Owner John Bowen expects construction to begin by the end of the week, and for an opening date to come sometime in early June.
“Welcome to Liberty Hill, we’re glad to have you,” Fuller said, adding that she loves the deli’s Tuscany sandwiches.
Retail Coach hired to develop
city marketing package
As reported previously in The Independent, (“EDC looks to marketers to attract employers to Liberty Hill,” Jan. 26, 2017), the Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors has been discussing plans to hire a marketing firm that would put together a package advertising Liberty Hill’s qualifications to prospective businesses. The EDC Board voted Feb. 7 to retain the firm.
On Monday, the Council approved a contract to hire the Retail Coach to fulfill this plan in a 30-day timetable. The company will compile information such as local traffic counts, demographics and ongoing permit proposals.
City Administrator Greg Boatright said that he and Mayor Fuller have experienced many times when it would have been useful to be able to present this information to businesses interested in opening locations in the area.
“It’s great to say we’re growing fast, but without the ability to put that in a form we can present, it doesn’t carry much weight.”
The Council approved the contract between the EDC and the Retail Coach for an amount up to $35,000.
Mapmakers hired to help chart capital investments
Boatright explained at length the need for a road map that would plot the City’s capital improvement projects for the next five to seven years.
The Council passed an agreement with municipal consulting group Diverse Planning and Development to “perform program management and oversight of capital improvement projects” for an amount not to exceed $75,000.
The firm, which Boatright called a “surrogate staff,” would help the City draft goals, a timetable and public presentations of projects in areas such as transportation, infrastructure, parks, buildings and more.
The City currently has around 15 such projects planned or ongoing, he said.
“You guys might not be here in three or four years,” he said to elected officials. “I might not be here. But we want to create a direction for future councils.
“We’ve all fought too hard to get to where we’re at right now, and I don’t want there to be wholesale changes in staff and council and then they go off in a completely different direction.”
Hiring City Planner delayed, foreshadowing potential for a budget showdown
In the current budget, the Council had approved a new position for a city engineer at a rate of $75,000. No one qualified however, has stepped forward in the three to four months since the opening has been available.
In discussions with engineering firms, Boatright reported that many said that the approved pay would be unlikely to attract anyone qualified.
Boatright’s recommendation was to fill the same position instead with another planner, who would be able to help the city staff process incoming permits and pursue annexations.
McLeod opposed the motion, and said that the city is spending “a lot of money.
“I had to grit my teeth through this $75,000 earlier, this $2,500,” he said.
McLeod made a motion to table the discussion, though added he’d rather just remove the discussion completely.
“We’ve already approved it once,” said Councilman Troy Whitehead.
“No, we approved an engineer,” McLeod responded.
Boatright said the task this new position would fulfill was just as crucial as the engineer would have been. For the amount of money set aside, this was a better investment, he said.
“From the CEFCO to the new subdivision, Graceland, there’s a void between our city limits,” he said as an example of the kind of “non-voluntary” annexation the city could potentially pursue.
Historically the city has worked with properties that have reached out to be annexed voluntarily.
Boatright also mentioned expanding eastward on SH 29, where the city limits have stayed constant since the incorporation in 1999.
The position would also help a strained staff process incoming permits and implement an online service called MyPermitNow, which allows prospective businesses to fill out permit applications and pay fees online.
Senior City Planner Sally McFeron said that 48 permits had been requested in the past week. She projects that by the second quarter of 2017, at least 25 to 35 will come a week.
“It’s not slowing down, it’s really moving fast,” McFeron said.
Ultimately, the Council agreed with McLeod to table the discussion until the next meeting Feb. 27.