Development Services asks for more staff

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By Rachel Madison

More staff is at the top of the list for the City of Liberty Hill’s development services, which includes the planning department, the building department and the code enforcement department.

Members of development services presented their budget requests to the City Council at its most recent budget workshop on July 7.

John Byrum, director of planning for the City of Liberty Hill, said the department’s role is to provide comprehensive land use services both to the public and to the City, in support of the preservation, assistance and regulation of development in the city and its Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ).

The planning department is part of several pre-development meetings, Byrum said, which brings a need for more staff.

“A lot of people are interested in Liberty Hill,” he said. “In March, we had 15 pre-development meetings. We have these meetings every Wednesday morning. We’ve already tied with last year’s amount [and it’s July]. Really good people are interested in coming to Liberty Hill.”

Byrum said current goals for the planning department in the upcoming fiscal year include code amendments, updating the City’s standard operating procedures, creating an application submittal deadline, keeping better records of submittals, and building a staff.

Byrum, who just began his role as director about two months ago, said these changes will be a big help to the department.

“We are lacking some codes, so we’re working on putting those in place just to bring our code up to date,” he said. “I’ve also learned over the last couple of months that there haven’t really been any procedures put in place for the entire planning department, so we’re working on doing that not only for staff but also in helping us deal with the public. We are also creating a submittal deadline, because right now anyone can come in and submit their project on any day, but by creating a deadline, that will help us stay on track. We also want to get planning staff turning things around faster. We currently have a 14-day turnaround process. We also want to keep better track of documents.”

Future goals for Byrum’s department include continuing to update code amendments, updating the City’s comprehensive plan, and creating a GIS department.

“The GIS department will be in charge of keeping our maps updated,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of our maps aren’t up to date, and some of our zoning hasn’t been updated on our zoning map. By having the GIS department in house, we can have our maps updated right away instead of waiting for a third party. I think we’re getting the right staff in place, and it’ll be good—it’ll take some time but we’ll get there.”

City Building Official Elias Carrasco said the building department’s main roles are to issue permits and conduct inspections. Because of the growth Liberty Hill is seeing, he needs more resources, like staff, in his department as well.

Carrasco said in 2019, the City issued 1,464 permits. In 2021, from January to June, the City has already issued 1,676 permits.

“We are definitely going to pass last year’s number this year,” he said.

When it comes to inspections, the building department conducted 15,093 inspections in 2019. In 2021, from January to June, the City has already conducted 17,284 inspections.

Carrasco added that in 2019, the average number of inspections conducted per day sat at 57, with one building inspector on staff. In 2021, there are about 68 inspections per inspector per day, with two building inspectors on staff.

“We really want to stay between 50 and 60 inspections a day, because we want to keep it thorough,” he said. “Right now at 68 it’s not overwhelming because I can still help, but we want to keep it under that. Every house being built has 21 inspections, and every commercial business has 23 inspections.”

Future plans, including the growth and build out of subdivisions like Butler Farms, The Hills, Dickenson Ranch and Rio Ancho, will only increase the building department’s need for more inspectors, Carrasco said.

“When any of these come on board, we’ll need another inspector,” he said.

When it comes to budget asks, Byrum said development services numbers aren’t too drastic, as they are mainly focusing on new staff and updating the City’s comprehensive plan.

“As you have more staff, you need more money for supplies, training and certifications,” he said. We are also asking for consulting funds for the comprehensive plan. That’s something that should be updated every five to 10 years and looks out to the future for the next 20 years.”

Development services asked for $75,000 in the budget for consulting services for the comprehensive plan, as well as an additional $133,980 over last year’s budget for personnel, including salaries, trainings and travel reimbursements, for a total of $738,880.

The City just hired a code enforcement officer, and now that he is on board, the main goal for this department is to find direction. Carrasco said the City can go in one of two directions: court issued citations for violations or abatements for violations. City Administrator Lacie Hale said the city council will discuss at a future budget meeting the differences between the two options, including costs and benefits.

Carrasco also wants to make sure education is a large part of the code enforcement department. The department plans to create brochures with common code violations to pass out to the public, “Did you know?’ graphics online and on social media, door hangers with friendly reminders, and a code enforcement module on the City’s website.

“Education is going to be a really big push for us,” he said.

Chief Financial Officer Becky Wilkins said the code enforcement’s portion of the development services budget is $26,500, which includes $1,500 for the brochures, door hangers and other educational materials, as well as $25,000 for junk removal and weed removal at substandard buildings.

“This amount is just to get a start because we don’t know how many we will have,” she added.

The overall development services budget ask for fiscal year 2021-22 is $943,880, compared to $685,050 approved for the previous year’s budget. No decisions are being made on budget requests for the 2021-22 fiscal year at this time. The Council is hosting a series of budget workshops throughout the summer before finalizing the 2021-22 fiscal year’s budget.

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