Now that the City of Liberty Hill can officially claim a population of over 5,000 residents, it is seeking a change from general rule to home rule status.
What does this mean for the City and its residents? City Administrator Paul Brandenburg said when a city reaches a population of at least 5,000, it can be ruled by its own charter, which is essentially like having its own constitution. According to the final results of the 2020 U.S. Census, Liberty Hill’s population is 6,801.
“When you’re a general rule city, you fall under the general rules of the State of Texas, and there are things you are limited in doing,” he added. “When you’re home rule, you can control your own destiny.”
Right now, the city council consists of five members who serve at large. With home rule, the City can designate if those members remain at large or serve by district. Additionally, under home rule, a city can give its mayor voting powers; terms of office can be shortened; an ethics commission could be created; and the extraterritorial jurisdiction surrounding the City can be expanded from a quarter mile to a half mile.
“Basically, there’s a lot we could adopt and codify, and then put into a charter and it becomes law,” Brandenburg said. “All of our neighboring cities are home rule and have been for a long time based on their populations. Moving to home rule allows you to do more locally and financially. It’s like going from the AAA baseball league to the majors.”
Brandenburg said he himself is a strong believer of local control, adding that if and when the city becomes home rule, it will become “truly democratic.”
“We are at the grassroots level to deliver citizens services, police, utilities—we should be able to govern the operations we have,” he said.
Now that City staff has determined to pursue the home rule status, Brandenburg said the next step is to create a 15-member home rule charter committee.
“We are currently at seven people who have applied,” he said. “Everyone who is on this committee has to live within city limits.”
Once the charter committee is formed, the group’s role will be to look at all of the City’s ordinances, break them down and decide what they think should be changed or done differently for the charter.
“Once they do that, they’ll write a brand-new charter for the community to consider,” Brandenburg said. “The goal is to have it finished so that it can go to voters for the May 2024 election.”
Brandenburg added that city residents would be able to see the document in its entirety before casting their votes.
“Quite frankly, I’m not aware of any city that has moved into the direction of home rule that hasn’t been successful, because it gets you away from being under the cloud of the state.”
In addition to appointing a 15-member charter committee, Brandenburg said public education will be another aspect of pursuing the home rule designation.
“We want people to understand what it is, so we will be using social media, our website and possibly even an open house for questions as we go through this process,” he said.
City staff has already sent informational letters to every resident explaining what home rule is and how to get involved with the charter commission.
“Overall, moving to home rule will be a huge benefit,” Brandenburg said. “It will open up further opportunities for the City through grants and other resources that are limited right now being a general rule city.”
To learn more about home rule designation, visit www.libertyhilltx.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=218.
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