Council sets tax rate, adopts LUE guidelines

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill City Council members voted unanimously Monday to set the tax rate for fiscal 2015 at $0.527842 per $100 property value — a rate that will generate $29,903 more than the current fiscal year.

Chief Financial Officer Amber Lewis said the tax rate will mean an additional $7.43 for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Property values inside the city limits increased for 2015. Lewis said the tax rate is the highest rate the city can adopt before voters could petition for a rollback election. Public hearings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 to hear comments on the proposed tax rate.

The Council also adopted standards for calculating residential and commercial water and wastewater fees. For some time, Council and staff have been discussing Living Unit Equivalent (LUE) guidelines.

After some input from the city’s contracted engineering firm Steger Bizzell, the Council voted 4-1 to accept the recommended LUE Guidance Document. Councilmember Wendell McLeod voted no because he said the plan wasn’t fair.

“This accurately reflects the true impact on the system,” said Curtis Steger, who added that restaurants are the highest users of the water and wastewater systems.

Throughout the discussion over recent council meetings, the concern has been about the high impact fees restaurants will be required to pay upon hookup. The Council agreed to increase the restaurant square footage from 200 to 300 square feet per LUE.

According to the new guidelines, a new restaurant with 1,200 square feet could pay as much as $21,000 in impact fees.

Following the staff’s recommendation, the Council voted unanimously to create the positions of Code Enforcement Officer/Building Inspector and Finance Assistant.

The current year’s budget included $35,000 for a code enforcement officer, but the position was not filled. City Manager Greg Boatright explained that the duties of code enforcement and building inspection will be combined into one position. The City will spend about $42,000 this fiscal year paying an outside vendor to do building inspections. Boatright said by hiring an employee to do both jobs, the city can save money and have more control.

The position of Finance Assistant will be funded partially with a $26,000 contribution from the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4, which is contracting with the City to do its bookkeeping. The Council approved an Interlocal Cost-sharing Agreement with the ESD on Monday, which also includes a $10,000 payment to the City for use of its Encode accounting software.

Boatright’s plan is to move Karen Smith into the position with an hourly pay increase to $22.60. Municipal Court Clerk Tracy Musch will be reassigned to City Hall where she will take over some of Smith’s clerical duties along with continuing to manage the Court. Her hours will increase from 32 per week to 40.

In making those changes, Boatright said he will recommend that Lewis be promoted to a new position of Assistant City Manager where her salary will increase 7 percent to $72,000.

“I want to make our money work for us, better manage our investments,” said Lewis. “I want to look at things like that rather than just do payroll.”

In other personnel matters, the Council voted to appoint Sally McFerron to the position of Senior Planner, and Vince Perkins as Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator.

McFerron replaces Jim Bechtol, who resigned last month to take a job in the private sector. She was hired at the salary of $61,800.

Perkins is a former wastewater treatment plant operator for the Brazos River Authority. He will be working part-time until the new fiscal year begins in October, and his full-time salary will be $45,000.

In other business this week, the Council voted unanimously to approve a plan to set aside fees the city receives from developers designated for parkland. Councilmember Elizabeth Branigan, who is also a member of the Parks & Recreation Board, said the funds should be reserved for park development and not co-mingled with other income in the General Fund.

Following an 80-minute closed session with the City’s attorney, the Council voted unanimously to authorize staff to initiate involuntary annexation proceedings and approved a revised timeline for the process. The City is seeking to annex multiple properties that are partially inside the city limits and customers of city utilities.

Impacted property owners will begin receiving notices by mail this week, and the target date for completion is Oct. 19.

The Council held a second budget workshop following Monday’s special meeting. Officials heard from department heads about their needs for the new fiscal year. The discussion was a continuation from a workshop Aug. 3.

The Council heard from Kirk Clennan, executive director of the Economic Development Corp., who noted that the EDC budget was adjusted to reduce a proposed expenditure of $750,000 that was to be used on improvements to water infrastructure downtown and on the west side of the city. EDC Board members were opposed to the larger expenditure because it would have drained the EDC budget. The number was reduced to $200,000.

After discussing the proposed budgets of the water and wastewater funds, as well as street maintenance, the total expenditures requested by department heads in fiscal 2015 is $43,275 higher than projected revenue.

Lewis said by the time the Council meets again to look at the budget, the gap will be closed and the City will have a balanced budget.

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