Council starts discussion on funding for new projects
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Three intersection projects were discussed as priorities by the Liberty Hill City Council in 2020, with each getting as far as initial design work and cost estimates, but Monday, Council members were questioning the status of those projects and why more progress had not been made.
“We have the summer coming up, we have a brand new parking lot and we have an awesome splash pad,” said Council member Tony DeYoung. “I’m really kind of frustrated this hasn’t gone forward after the last conversation we had. I don’t know where that got off. Why are we not moving forward?”
The urgency, especially for the downtown intersection, is concern over safety with the new splash pad at Wetzel Park and the assumption that many people will be crossing the road to access the park, but the potential for traffic collisions at any of the three raised concerns.
“We have three identified locations that are significant traffic hazards,” said Council member Steve McIntosh. “We’ve identified those are serious hazards and I think that should weigh into the funding and how we prioritize. We should evaluate these projects based on the danger that they present. We face an issue with the fact we identified these as a problem and we have not moved forward on them. If we have a serious accident there, there can be the impression that we have ignored the danger of the intersection.”
But there is no funding in place for the projects in the current budget, and City staff said funds would have to come from issuing tax notes or a future bond sale. The Council recently approved $2.56 million in bonds for the swim center, community center and renovations at City Hall.
Kathy Canady asked how the three intersection projects were originally intended to be funded, but funds were never earmarked for them specifically.
“This is one of the many CIP (capital improvement projects) that was on the list for which there was no continued long-term plan to fund all the projects,” said City Treasurer Becky Wilkins. “Once we have the price then we can come back and Council can decide if you want to do a tax note, if you want to do a bond or combine a couple of projects.”
An amount for any future bond will not be known until final estimates are tallied for the projects, if all three are included on one issue, but Monday, City Administrator Lacie Hale mentioned it could be somewhere in the $4.5 million range.
The three intersections include the downtown intersection of Loop 332 and CR 279, Bailey Lane and SH 29 across from Liberty Hill Intermediate School, and the realignment of the Liberty Parke subdivision entrance.
Last April, the Council gave its approval to a plan to realign the intersection of Loop 332 and CR 279.
The initial estimate for the project was $858,081, but a final total will not be known until engineering work is completed and the project is bid.
The plan will alter the Loop coming from the east toward CR 279 to create a T-intersection with a three-way stop. Traffic coming into downtown from CR 279 would be able to turn right onto the Loop or continue into downtown after a stop. Drivers entering downtown from the east on Loop 332 will be able to continue right on the Loop with a yield or turn left onto CR 279 after a stop. Traffic leaving downtown will be able to continue south on CR 279 or turn left and continue on the Loop following a stop.
To assist with traffic control at the intersection and designate the continued right into downtown from the Loop, a triangular median will be constructed at the intersection.
The project replaces a plan scrapped by the Council in May 2019 to construct a roundabout at the intersection. The City spent close to $400,000 on engineering for the project and awarded a bid in April 2019 for $1,372,104 for the roundabout and adjacent parking lot project on the washateria property.
Under the new plan, the intersection and parking lot come in at a combined projected cost of $1.2 million.
The parking lot was separated from the intersection work as it has already been completed as part of a larger downtown street and utility project totaling $1.2 million.
That project package specifically included the parking lot, Van Alley parking, utilities for Barton, Aynsworth, a new water line going down CR 279, resurfacing of those roads, and completion of Munro.
The Bailey Lane project was updated Monday, and traffic counts do justify a new traffic signal if the realignment moves forward.
“The traffic warrant study for the signal at Bailey Lane indicated it met two of the warrants for a signal so we’re currently in the process of coordinating with (Texas Department of Transportation) to get approval for the signal,” said engineer Curtis Steger. “With that we will continue moving forward with the detailed design and the relocation because we know that was one of the important aspects of this.”
In October, the Council approved spending $198,786 with Steger Bizzell Engineering for services related to the widening and rehabilitation of Bailey Lane, which runs north from SH 29 just west of Golden Chick.
The increase came as the Council expanded the scope of planning to include the potential realignment of Loop 332 at SH 29 to the east to create an intersection with Bailey Lane.
Bailey is currently a two-lane road and goes to Liberty Manor Apartments, but a new business park planned for the property between the apartments and restaurants is expected to increase traffic flow, and the Council is looking for ways to improve the road and its capacity.
The proposal first brought to the Council regarding Bailey Lane was for widening only, and improving the entry from SH 29, with an estimated price tag provided by Steger Bizzell of $440,695.
The new estimate proposed Monday with the addition of the possible realignment and signalization was for about $1.65 million including construction and soft costs.
The property needs for shifting Loop 332 would involve coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation and Liberty Hill ISD.
The estimated cost of the Liberty Parke entrance realignment – which would move the entrance further east and align with Stonewall Parkway – is $1.33 million without engineering and contingency costs. The City is hoping to cut that cost some by diverting Williamson County road bond funds originally intended for the Long Run extension project, which would have extended that road on the north side of the Stonewall subdivision east to intersect with US Hwy 183.
The growing length of regular Council meetings, and the number of items on each agenda, led Canady to make a request that the Council add a third meeting each month.
“I know that this probably isn’t real popular, but I’ve talked to some of the staff and I think that with everything we have going on, I think we need a third meeting,” she said. “I think if we find out we don’t need it we can always cancel one of those.
“We’re here until 11 (p.m.), and we get stuff on Friday to look at over the weekend. If we had shorter agendas because we have extra meetings to get caught up with everything going on in our city I think that would be better for all of us.”
The Council voted 4-1 to approve the change on a motion from Canady, with DeYoung voting against adding the third meeting.
“It is very difficult for me to make a third meeting myself,” he said, adding he was also concerned it might not be fair to new candidates seeking a place on the Council as they filed to run with the understanding there were two regular meetings each month.
The last four regular meetings prior to Monday ranged from four hours and 29 minutes long to five hours and 26 minutes long.
The addition of a third meeting requires a new ordinance, which should be brought back at the next regular meeting for a vote.
The Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of the creation of Municipal Utility District 40 (MUD) on the west end of Liberty Hill along SH 29 just past the planned Butler Farms development.
Establishment of the MUD is being sought through the Legislature, and the Council resolution – while not required for its establishment – is something that helps its formation through the legislative process.
“We will be purchasing wastewater and water service from the City,” said D.R. Horton representative Phillip Vargas. “We would extend utilities down to where the city connection ends now, then buy the retail service for our residents.”
Council member Liz Rundzieher asked why a MUD was needed versus a voluntary annexation.
“The plant is a few years out and it is going to be on the opposite side of the highway and down a little bit,” Vargas said. “Until the plant is there we have to assume it is never going to be there and with that assumption we have to extend utilities all the way into town.”
The 1,122-acre MUD is being established for a new residential and retail development by D.R. Horton, and the initial concept plan is for 3,600 home lots and a potential new school site in addition to some retail. No timetable was given for when the development might begin construction.
The Butler Farms development property – 433 acres – was annexed in late 2018, and is expected to have about 1,200 homes when built out.
Water leak assistance
When the Council discussed two weeks ago the possibility of making adjustments to water bills in the case of excessive leaks or broken pipes due to the recent winter storm, staff realized there was no policy in place to address such adjustments.
Monday, staff proposed a new policy, which the Council approved, that will now offer an opportunity for water customers to get assistance in the form of a credit on their bill should it be considerably higher due to leaks or broken pipes.
“I decided to go ahead and present a resolution for a leak policy that would have the ability and flexibility for us to make adjustments during a winter storm or something like that,” Wilkins said. “It would allow the utility billing department to evaluate if someone has a leak to determine if we can give them a credit, and in the event of a winter storm we can take further action and maybe do something additional.”
To be eligible, customers must have a copy of a repair receipt and provide the range of high bill dates caused by the leak, as well as the date and description of the repair. If eligible, adjustments can be made to up to two consecutive billing periods prior to any repairs, but adjustments can’t be in excess of $100 per billing cycle. Adjustments will be made as a credit on the water account.
The final determination for granting the adjustment will be made by the City Administrator or City Treasurer.