Council to consider impact fee increases

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The new year may bring increased fees for new homeowners and businesses in Liberty Hill.

At its meeting on Jan. 13, the Liberty Hill City Council will have its first discussion of potential water and wastewater impact fee increases and will hold a public hearing, inviting members of the community to address the issue.

“We are presenting something to the Council, at least a first pass if you will, on impact fees at the Jan. 13 meeting, but right now I don’t have even a remote answer,” said Mayor Rick Hall. “We’re waiting for the financial analysis back from our rate study team to bring back to the impact fee committee. It will increase. How much I’m not quite sure yet. I know it will not be at the max level.”

In required public notices the last two weeks, the City published the potential maximum rate that could be set by the Council for the water and wastewater impact fees. These fees are paid by property owners or developers when they connect to the city’s water and wastewater services.

Currently, the water service fee is $3,500 for new homes, and the wastewater fee for commercial properties is $4,500 and new homes is $3,500.

The new maximum possible fee for water service is posted at $7,037 and the max for wastewater service is $5,261. The City is legally obligated to post the potential maximum rate, but Hall said it is unlikely it will be set that high when the Council votes.

“I’m confident that we won’t be at the max, but I’m also confident it will increase some only because we have so much growth coming here to Liberty Hill,” Hall said. “It’s not just Liberty Hill from the water standpoint, but we are the regional wastewater provider so it has a larger effect on the wastewater side.”

The rates are expected to increase to help cover future infrastructure needs for water and wastewater, recently identified in the capital improvement plan.

“In order to meet the requirements for the projected growth, we’ve got about $140 million in projects that need to be done over the next 10 to 15 years,” Hall said. “All that gets calculated based on need and how fast it needs to happen.”

In November, the Council unanimously approved the 10-year capital improvement plan for its water and wastewater services, a critical step in determining if and when impact fees should be changed.

The Impact Fee Committee proposed $61 million in water infrastructure improvements and just under $76 million in wastewater infrastructure improvements.

Projections show the annual growth rate in water customers is 10.2 percent, reaching 1,958 connections by 2028, while wastewater service is expected to expand from 4,413 customers currently to 13,089 by 2028.

Projects include the current and another future expansion of the current wastewater plant, as well as a new Northfork Wastewater Plant. On the wastewater side there are a number of lift station improvements and capacity upgrades planned.

On the water side there are many capacity upgrades for increased population as well as fire suppression, but the high-dollar items include a drinking water reservoir, raw water intake and pump station and a direct reuse drinking water plant.

The improvements would be paid for in part through impact fees.

“Those are really impactful for the City whenever it comes to expansion of the plant, and our water and wastewater, so in order for us to set the fee we have to get a timeline and something laid out for approval of what we need to use that money for so we can work backwards from that,” Hall said at the time.

Once the infrastructure costs were estimated, the information went back to the rate consultant.

“The rate consultant will take this information and put it into their models to develop what the maximum impact fee can be established at based on state law and then they will bring that back to the Council for implementation,” said Curtis Steger of Steger Bizzell Engineering. “This effects new development, the fees homebuilders pay when they come to the City to get a water meter or to get a wastewater service tap.”

Hall mentioned that Liberty Hill’s impact fees are considerably less than surrounding cities, with Steger citing the $10,000 fee in Georgetown compared to Liberty Hill’s current combined $7,000 fee.

The Council also approved a proposed future land use map, also required as part of the process for determining rates.

“In order for us to figure out where we need to take water and wastewater service to we have to have some kind of rough estimate of where development is going to be,” Hall said. “This is not going to be the permanent land use map and I think the words permanent and land use map should never go hand in hand because it should always be a working document. This is a start for us so we can have this to coincide with the impact fee study. We will continue this piece of it as a separate piece down the road as a true land use map for the layout of the City.”

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