Council uses meeting as workshop to hash out CIPs, MUDs and more

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By Rachel Madison

The City Council recently voted to turn one of its three regular monthly meetings into a workshop to have more time to discuss topics council members feel are important to understand in detail.

The first of those workshops was held July 14, where the Council reviewed the water and wastewater capital improvement project plans (CIPs), policy for municipal utility districts (MUDs) and policy for development agreements. The workshop also served as an opportunity for the water, wastewater and streets and maintenance department to submit its budget requests for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Perry Steger of the engineering firm Steger Bizzell presented information about the City’s current water and wastewater CIPs, adding that the ongoing theme of his presentation would be centered on the growth Liberty Hill is experiencing and what the Council needs to plan for in the future.

“When we created these CIPs, we weren’t bold enough to predict the kind of growth we’re seeing,” Steger said.

The current water CIP was prepared in 2019, and the following water system projects were identified to be completed from 2019 to 2022: construct wells #8 and #9; complete an 8-inch loop closure on CR 214; complete downtown fire protection including a 12-inch water line along Church Street from Hickman Street to Matthews Circle along RR 1869 and along Forrest Street; construct the Stubblefield ground storage and pump station; complete an 8-inch upgrade to Van Alley; and complete the Stubblefield WTM.

Based on current system growth projections and recent utility feasibility studies, Steger said there is a need for additional water supply, which could be either well or surface water. He provided a list of options for Council to consider, including amending the City’s water treatment contract with the City of Leander; identifying and contracting with other additional water suppliers; constructing wells #8 and #9; and constructing a wastewater treatment plant for direct water reuse.

Steger said ultimately, Liberty Hill needs a long-range plan on how it’s going to have more sources of water. He said if the City does nothing, it would be out of water by mid-2026.

“We don’t want to be too conservative either way,” he said. “We want to have enough water and also don’t want to have too much.”

The current wastewater CIP identified several wastewater system projects to be completed from 2019 to 2022, including the expansion of the South Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant to two million gallons per day; construction of Lift Station #4; the addition of interceptors to CR 266 and CR 260; and increasing the capacity of Highway 29 from CR 214 to a gravity line.

Steger added that based on current system growth projections and recent utility feasibility studies, there is also a need for additional wastewater treatment and conveyance. Options for this CIP include expanding the South Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant to four million gallons per day; constructing the gravity wastewater lift station 4, and force main improvements to provide service originally planned with the SH 29 FM Capacity Increase from CR 214 to a gravity line; and constructing the southwest regional gravity wastewater, lift station and force main improvements to provide service to the downtown and western portions of the city’s wastewater service area.

“We need to get started now on the next two million gallon a day expansion at South Fork to bring it up to 4 million gallons a day,” Steger said. “We need to have that next phase in service in 18 months. It’s doable, but everything has to work. I think we owe it to you guys to bring you a task order and then you decide whether or not to tell us to get started.”

Steger added that the wastewater treatment plant currently uses 1.4 million gallons per day, which is why he projects the City has 18 months to get the next expansion completed.

“With the current growth rate, that will get us through the end of 2025,” he said. “We will also be building one or two additional plants before that time. We already have locations identified on the North San Gabriel River on Ronald Reagan Boulevard and negotiations underway for a plat on the west side of Liberty Hill that is in the early stages. If growth continues after that, we’d look at expanding the plants we already have.”

Next, council discussed the City’s policy for MUDs, including the various options, as well as a rough draft of a MUD policy.

City Attorney Alan Bojorquez said establishing a clear-cut MUD policy will provide for more consistency across the board, meaning the City won’t be making decisions project by project and developer by developer. The Council decided to review the draft and discuss the need for a future workshop.

The Council also discussed and the policy for development agreements.

“There is nothing regarding the process notice, hearing or criteria for development agreements,” Bojorquez said. “We have some opportunity to establish that for ourselves.”

Council decided to discuss this policy in a future workshop.

“We have development agreements that are different with every developer, and we need to be more consistent,” said Council member Kathy Canady.

Public Works Manager Jay Holmes used the workshop to present his budget requests for water, wastewater, and streets and maintenance in the upcoming fiscal year. He said his requests were due to the growth his department is seeing.

The wastewater treatment plant processes 1.3 million gallons a day and has added 1,300 customers in 2021, he said. Water connections have grown to 1,602 in just the first six months of 2021, compared to 1,413 total in 2020.

“With this budget there will be some increase and there will be some impacts,” Hale said, adding that because the city has a more stringent TCEQ permit, testing will go from twice a week to five times a week, increasing the amount of lab equipment needed.

Hale also said lift station preventative maintenance needs to be caught up, which is why the budget also asks for two additional wastewater operators. In addition, an increase for smart meters to replace current meters was also requested as well as additional moneys for sludge haul.

Lastly, Holmes also asked for an additional employee to cover the streets and maintenance sector.

Also at the meeting, the council voted unanimously to increase City Secretary Nancy Sawyer’s annual salary to $83,000 after going into a second executive session.

The next regular meeting will be July 28 at 6:30 p.m.

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