Council revives push for SRO program



Early this month, the Liberty Hill City Council appeared to let the much-talked-about plan to partner with Liberty Hill ISD on a School Resource Officer (SRO) program fall off the radar, but it came back Monday with renewed focus.

Council Member Wendell McLeod brought it back for more discussion.

“I’m really in favor of this and I think we need to protect our school kids as much as we can,” he said, adding that he went to the school district to meet with Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle and ended up meeting with him and Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart.

“I explained to them I wasn’t a representative of the Council, I was just coming as an individual wanting to know why we didn’t get it started,” McLeod said.

The response from school district officials was surprising to McLeod.

“They seem to think it was us,” McLeod said of the reaction from Pirtle and Hart. “They were ready to go and we didn’t do it. Whatever the reason is – I don’t even care what the reason is – we have got to get it done. Mr. Pirtle and Dr. Hart were all for it. They seem to think we’re the ones that stopped it and we’re saying they stopped it.”

Hart confirmed they met with McLeod, and that when they learned the program wasn’t kept in the new budget for the city they were surprised.

“We didn’t know it had been pulled from the budget when we met with Wendell (McLeod),” Hart told The Independent. “He wanted to know why we backed out of the deal. We didn’t, we thought it was a good deal.”

Hart said no one had approached the district since the initial meetings between he and Pirtle and Mayor Rick Hall and Police Chief Maverick Campbell.

While the district was in favor of the originally proposed agreement, it has undergone revisions at the request of council members and Hart said he has not seen the latest version for consideration.

City Attorney Dottie Palumbo reworked the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) presented to the Council previously to only include campuses in the city limits and reflect a start date of Jan. 1, 2019 for the program.

The Council unanimously supported the proposed changes in July and agreed to send two members to the August school board meeting, but the issue did not make the school board agenda.

City staff has estimated costs for the program, including salary, benefits, equipment, training, vehicle and overtime to be about $90,000 per officer.

The school board set aside $100,000 for law enforcement in its preliminary budget in May.

Monday, the Council agreed Rhea and Rundzieher would meet with district officials to try and jump start talks.

Hart said he is not opposed to a new agreement on an SRO program, but that the district will again be looking more closely at the possibility of creating its own department as an option as well.

Boatright contract
Boatright had his contract extended for one year and received a 7.5 percent salary increase plus a 5 percent merit raise by a unanimous vote of the Council following his performance evaluation.

His current salary is $119,325, and the increase will bump that to $134,240.

Swim Center
Liberty Hill has secured a $500,000 Texas Parks and Wildlife grant to help cover the costs of the Swim Center, but the funds are not likely to be dispersed until March, so construction of the pool is not expected to begin until May 2019.

Boatright said construction should take four to five months, meaning the pool would not open until the 2020 swim season.

There is still no agreed upon plan with the County for how to handle the drainage issue in City Park in relation to the County Road 200 project.

“The only other option would be if the park committee wanted to expense some funds to extend the box culverts,” Boatright said.

The goal is to either be able to create parking over the drainage area or at a minimum have a crossing for vehicles.

Ownership issues
Questions arose Monday regarding who should maintain ownership of Christmas decorations being purchased by the City for the Christmas Festival, but a unanimous vote determined the City would maintain ownership, while the festival committee could store the new decorations in its storage facility.

“We had discussed in the budget to buy additional Christmas decorations, and I think we have about $30,000 budgeted for the purchase of those, and it came up between the City and the Christmas Festival Committee as to ownership,” Boatright said. “Rather than staff going back and forth with the Christmas Committee, I felt it was best for Council to weigh in.”

The key issue was accountability for items that taxpayer money purchased.

“It is our responsibility to take care of that asset and use it for its intended purpose, and so that was really the only reason we made (the decision),” Boatright said. “It was not to control the situation or anything like that.”

P&Z appointments
The Council unanimously reappointed Cheryl New to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a second term, and appointed new member Steve Messana to the final vacant position.

Messana, former owner of Austin Canoe & Kayak, has lived in Liberty Hill for five years, moving from Central Austin.

“I love Liberty Hill,” He said. “I’m enjoying the growth, but I want to be a part of the growth and development of that growth and help out as much as I can to mold this into a great city as it expands.”