Plenty of discussion, not many decisions at City Council meeting

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By Rachel Madison

In a regular meeting that lasted for over four and a half hours on June 9, the Liberty Hill City Council discussed 20 different agenda items, but only made decisive motions on a handful of those.

A motion to appoint the Bojorquez Law Firm as the interim city attorney passed. City Administrator Lacie Hale said because city council meetings were recently changed from Monday evenings to Wednesday evenings, the previous attorney couldn’t make the new schedule work. Bojorquez Law Firm has worked with the City in the past and will be on board until the council moves forward with a hiring and recruiting firm to hire an in-house attorney. The law firm will bill the City $285 per hour for its services.

The Council also rescinded a resolution to purchase a “command vehicle” pick-up truck for the Liberty Hill Police Department, and instead approved a resolution to purchase a 2022 Tahoe and equipment for three police vehicles at a cost of $101,018. City Treasurer Becky Wilkins said this change was made because it was going to take at least eight months for the requested truck to be available, which seemed unrealistic, so instead it was decided to purchase the Tahoe. The equipment will be used to outfit the new vehicle, the Police Chief’s current vehicle, and to turn a truck in administration into a “command vehicle.” The need for the new vehicle is due to another police vehicle getting totaled in an accident.

“The Police Chief decided that a truck we had in administration would work for his needs, so he will take over the lease plan payments of approximately $6,000 a year,” Wilkins said.

Another motion passed during the meeting was to authorize Mundo & Associates to present to the Council on best practices, duties and roles of boards and commissions, at a cost of $2,500. The Council agreed unanimously that the training would be a good start to updating the City’s policies and procedures.

“There’s a lot of new people here, and it would be to have them come to talk to us about the different roles, how they operate and what the expectations are,” said Council member Kathy Canady. “It might be good for us as a council before we make decisions on what we want our boards and commissions to do.”

The Council also passed a motion to schedule a workshop as soon as possible to bring the Council, Economic Development Corporation and the Planning & Zoning Commission together to discuss development agreement standards for residential subdivisions, in addition to the City’s Capital Improvement Plan. The workshop will be scheduled later this month.

“We have massive growth coming our way, with some juggernauts coming to town,” said Council member Chris Pezold. “We need to not just be taking care of immediate needs, but also looking forward.”

As a way to encourage more citizen participation, the Council passed a motion to hold its executive sessions first, before the regular meeting begins, with a time limit of 30 minutes. The executive sessions will now take place on regular meeting nights at 6:30 p.m., and the open meetings will begin at 7 p.m. If more discussion in executive session is needed, the Council agreed to go back into executive session at the end of the regular meeting.

Lastly, while a motion was not made, the Council discussed and agreed to use their first and third meetings of the month as regular meetings, and their second meeting of the month for a workshop to take more time to discuss any big issues or decisions that need to be made.

Besides these motions, the rest of the meeting was spent discussing various agenda items, but no decisions were made except to table and further research those topics.

For example, two change orders were requested for the Liberty Hill Bike and Pedestrian Loop project, including a request for $8,500 for design engineering firm Bowman Construction to provide construction administration and support through the end of the project and $6,228 for Westar Construction to make drainage improvements at the driveway just past the railroad crossing on Loop 332. The Council tabled the item until they could see an itemized bid as well as a comparison to the project’s original bid approved in 2017.

The project is being funded 75 percent by TxDot and 25 percent by the City and must be completed by September to secure the funding from TxDot. The City’s portion for the $1 million project is approximately $290,000. It was originally bid in 2017, but construction was delayed until earlier this year.

Pezold said the amount the change order is asking for “seems extremely excessive” for a sidewalk project, and because of that he wanted to see a breakdown of the costs. Nick Kale, with Bowman Construction, said changing of staff within the City and the project being dormant caused the original budget to be used to remobilize the project and get it back under construction, which is why they are asking for more money now. Hale added that if Bowman doesn’t manage the project, which includes daily communication with TxDot, the City won’t have the staff to properly manage it.

Ultimately, the Council tabled the items until the next meeting, so that there is time to study and understand the original agreement made.

“I don’t want to approve something that is excessive,” Pezold said.

Mayor Liz Branigan asked the Council to consider the proper use of fees in lieu of parkland. These are monies paid to the City to the tune of 8 percent when developers decide not to build a park in their subdivision. Currently, there is $155,000 in the budget for the parks.

“This money has not been placed into a separate fund, and I propose that it should be,” she said. “It’s been absorbed by the general fund, but Parks and Recreation has projects they could use this money to improve the city’s parks, but they have no money to spend. In the future, in the upcoming budget, I propose this money that comes from developers go into a separate fund and be used for parks, which is its intended purpose.”

The Council’s discussion led to asking city staff to come up with proper definitions for park improvements and park maintenance. Hale added that she will look to comparably sized cities for potential models.

“We don’t have the perfect definition of what improvements consist of, and that could be as simple as mowing the grass,” Canady said. “We spend on our parks about $252,000 a year. We need to clarify what improvement is. We don’t have that.”

Pezold added that developers are going to want to see where their 8 percent of funds are going. They may not appreciate their funds being used for maintenance like mulch, when something more visible like a playground or lighting is more likely to be considered an improvement.

Branigan also asked the Council to reimburse a tree mitigation fund in the amount of $15,000 from the general fund. Wilkins said because the City doesn’t have a tree mitigation policy, there is no policy, ordinance or resolution to collect funds.

“We can’t legally collect something we don’t have the right to collect,” Wilkins said.

Because of this, the Council opted to amend the City’s Unified Development Code. Hale said the UDC currently states that if someone wants to move a tree greater than 19 inches in width, they have to go the Planning & Zoning Commission, but that’s as far as it goes.

“This is the second fee since I’ve been here that we’ve had to stop collecting because we have no basis for collecting it,” Wilkins said.

Hale said this amendment to the UDC could be quick and take 30-45 days if agreements can be made between the Council and Planning & Zoning. Branigan added that city staff needs to research and see how much money has been collected for this fund in the past.

Matt Powell, executive director of the Economic Development Corp., presented the EDC’s recommendation to condense and update its current lineup of seven incentivization programs down to two programs, the INVEST and Booster incentive programs. Council member Crystal Mancilla wanted to know why the original programs didn’t work, and why it was necessary to narrow them down to two programs.

Canady said the “subjective nature” of the requirements, such as “bringing something new to the city that enhances quality of life,” was concerning.

Pezold added that the entire idea should be tabled until the Council, EDC and Planning and Zoning have a chance to do a joint workshop to discuss what’s needed in the city, which is what the Council ultimately voted unanimously to do.

“Right now with what we’re seeing with development coming here, I would suggest tabling this entire idea until we have a workshop to look at what is defining our community,” he said. “I believe the he best money spent is you guys coming in and looking at our long range plans and seeing where the money should actually be spent instead of doing these little spot deals.”

The Council also discussed the possible dedication of parkland at 900 Stubblefield Lane to the City. That property, owned by Pezold, is wanted by Williamson County to add to its 1,300-acre River Ranch Park, but Pezold is hesitant to sell because he’d rather see the property used by Liberty Hill residents. A portion of that land is already set to sell to the County for part of the Highway 29 bypass project, but the remaining 6.8 acres could be used as a city park, Pezold said.

“I’m at a point now where we could do a donation, but the County also just made an offer on it,” he added. “Right now the only way to preserve it [for Liberty Hill is] to actually have it donated as parkland.”

Pezold decided in the end to meet with city staff to discuss how the donation could work, along with providing a possible community lift station in that area, instead of selling the land to the County. No final decisions on what to do with the property were made.

Also at the meeting, the Council:

  • Gave direction to the city attorney to draft an ordinance to ban camping in the city. This camping ban would be to get ahead of any homeless people camping within the city.
  • Suggested the city put together a social media campaign to bring awareness to citizens about the dangers of cutting through parking lots and speeding on city side streets.
  • Discussed the need to fill all open positions on city boards and commissions, starting with the vacancy on Planning and Zoning. The council will ask P&Z to pick their top three applicants, while also reviewing applicants themselves. They plan to appoint someone to that position at their next meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 11:11 p.m. and included three separate executive sessions. The next regular city council meeting will be held June 23 at 6:30 p.m.

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