Liberty City Manager Tom Warner and Mayor Carl Pickett delivered a State of the City address Wednesday, Jan. 11, at a luncheon hosted by the Dayton Chamber of Commerce.
Warner reported on several projects that are underway to improve the City’s infrastructure and he shared information on new residential developments, and parks and recreation projects that should improve the standard of living for Liberty residents. Pickett spoke about the City’s ownership of its electrical system through the Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency and how it benefits the City and its residents by providing an influx of cash into the City’s coffers. The funding, in turn, is used for infrastructure improvements and helps keep the tax rate low for residents and businesses.
Warner, who has an engineering background, explained how the City Council in June 2021 adopted a Capital Improvement Plan that focused on five vision elements:
- Quality of Life
- Economic Development
- Organizational Excellence
All five vision elements involve some aspect or another of infrastructure, which Warner called “the building blocks” for everything the Council outlined in the Capital Improvement Plan. The City of Liberty has six basic areas within the CIP – airport, electrical, general improvements, recreational, streets and drainage, and water and wastewater.
“Most organizations have five of these. The one that most do not have is electrical,” said Warner.
Starting with the airport, Warner explained that the City is excited to include an Automated Weather Observing Station (AWOS) at the Liberty Municipal Airport. The AWOS project was funded entirely by a $203,345 grant from a Houston hospital to better provide accurate weather conditions for air ambulance flights.
“The only way they could get AWOS is to go through Hobby, Intercontinental, Cleveland or Beaumont [airports]. There was nothing in the southeastern part of the county where they could get data. If the weather was bad in Houston, Cleveland or Beaumont, they won’t fly,” Warner said. “This is a big plus for us and the entire community. The [Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center] hospital has a landing area. We have one at the airport and we have one at the fire department.”
The City also is working to add two 10-unit nested T-hangar buildings at the municipal airport. The design for the hangars is complete and now the City is waiting on funding of about $2.5 million. A wildlife fence that will prevent hogs and deers from venturing onto the airfield will be programmed into the City’s fiscal year budget for 2025 at a cost of approximately $600,000.
On Wednesday, City staff also held a pre-construction Airport Advisory Board meeting to discuss plans to rehabilitate the 3,800-foot runway and taxiway. This project is expected to cost $2.85 million, with the City matching funds of $285,000.
“Almost all of the funding we get [for the airport], in part, comes from TxDOT Aviation,” said Warner. “We are doing our best to partner with TxDOT, the Texas Department of Emergency Management, Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. We try to match our money with their money to get the most out of it that we can,” he said.
The City currently is collecting data that hopefully will help prompt more funding to have the runway extended by 1,200 feet.
“That is a catch 22. In order to extend the runway, we have to have aircraft land at the airport that will basically use that extra 1,200 feet. We are going from 3,800 feet to 5,000 feet. The problem is they can’t land on a 3,800-foot runway,” Warner said.
The City is wrapping up a $1.8 million renovation project to the Humphrey’s Cultural Center. A new roof has been added and some other maintenance issues had to be resolved. The exterior of the building also was cleaned.
At the Police Department, the City has spent about $204,800, of which $80,000 went to new police radios and $124,800 went to the dispatch console.
Sidewalks in the downtown area are also expected to be upgraded through funding from the Texas Department of Transportation. The City’s matching share of the $2.25 million project is just $225,000.
Through a $7.017 million grant from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the City is developing plans to build a new Fire Station 2 for the south side of the railroad tracks and renovating Fire Station 1 on Lakeland Drive.
“Since 2018 to this fiscal year, we are going to spend about $10 million on strengthening our electrical system. I think most residents will say that they aren’t having as many outages as they used to. That’s important because if we want businesses to come, they have to have reliable electrical service, just like they have to have reliable water and sanitary sewer service,” Warner said.
Warner briefly touched on the subject of new ball field lighting and playgrounds at the municipal parks, and future park improvements of restrooms and concession stands that will cost around $830,000. He then shared news that the recently-renovated Liberty Municipal Golf Course is expected to open in spring 2023.
“The golf course has been under our care for about five years. We purchased it from Magnolia Ridge Country Club. We have put a lot into it, mostly in the renovation of the course itself. That is underway. We are simply waiting for the grass to grow. We are going to spend $3.33 million on getting that golf course back up to where it was in its prime,” he said.
Currently, only the driving range, putting green and chipping green are open.
From 2022-2023, the City has spent or will spend $4.5 million to rehabilitate 41 streets. Weather prevented the completion of two of the streets from the 2022 budget from being completed before the end of the year; however, they are expected to be finished in the coming weeks. Twelve streets will see improvements during fiscal year 2023.
The City’s water and wastewater systems also are seeing improvements, said Warner. The City has a new water plant that is under design and will soon go out for bids for construction. The estimated price tag for this project is $8.25 million.
Warner shared information on new residential communities and businesses that are on the horizon. Liberty Ranch is a new residential development on SH 146 across from the new Liberty County Law Enforcement Center. Another residential development in the works involves 400 acres off of McGuire Road where the plans call for the property to be subdivided into estate-size lots and regular residential lots. Another residential developer has purchased land off Woodspring Road, a relatively new street that connects Lakeland Drive and the SH 146 bypass.
According to Warner, the developer of the Woodspring Road project has purchased 54 acres and is in the process of buying another 107 acres. Warner said the developer plans to create a residential area with some commercial properties.
When asked to provide an estimate of how many new rooftops will be added by these developments, Warner gave a cautious estimate of between 500 to 1,000.
“We do see development more on the residential side. We have a new hotel, like Dayton, and we are supposed to get a Wendy’s, hopefully sooner rather than later. With the hotel also came a Fuel Max. The gentleman who bought the former Thrif-Tees is building it out into a climatized self-storage, and is speculating space for offices. He also is building a mobile food vendor lot for 11 sites,” he said.
“We are seeing an uptick. A lot of it is the growth from Dayton that is finally crossing the river,” Warner said.
Following Warner, Pickett provided a history of the City’s electrical system that actually dates back to 1938.
“One interesting fact, at one point in the City of Liberty’s existence, Gulf States, the predecessor to Entergy, had lines parallel to the City’s electrical lines, so you had the option to choose a provider. In the late 1950s, the City bought out its infrastructure, so we own all of our electrical system in the City of Liberty,” Pickett said.
The City of Liberty is one of three member-cities in the Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency. According to Pickett, in 1979, the state legislature enacted a law that allowed the cities of Liberty, Jasper and Livingston to come together to form a cooperative electrical provider. Two persons from each member-city serve on the board of directors. For Liberty, Pickett and Warner serve on the board that meets once a month in Livingston.
“We try to be fair in our rates. There is a nice surplus of revenue from our electricity operations. That profit allows us to fund the general fund and to keep our tax rate lower than what it would be otherwise,” Pickett said.
The City of Liberty grosses around $16 million annually from SRMPA.
“There are 88 miles of distribution lines in the city and there are about 3,700 electrical meters for customers,” Pickett said.
For more information on the City of Liberty, go online to https://www.cityofliberty.org/. For more information on the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, go online to https://daytontxchamber.com/. The Chamber’s networking luncheons are held at the first Wednesday of each month. For February, that date falls on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Attendance at the Chamber luncheons are open to anyone in the community. Call the Chamber at 936-257-2393 to learn more about becoming a member.