The Westlake City Council reviewed its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-21 on Tuesday, Aug. 18 with about $100,000 added in for extra attorney fees to cover the expense of a possible lawsuit with the Indian Trail Improvement District over access to 140th Street North.
“What we’re doing tonight is setting up the budget for the September meeting and public hearing,” City Manager Ken Cassel said.
Total expenditures proposed for the City of Westlake are lower for next year at $2,947,100, compared to $3,231,300 in the current year. But legal counsel expenditures are proposed at $532,000, compared to $437,697 during the current year, with $115,000 allocated for outside legal services, up from $23,970.
“This is at your total discretion,” Cassel said. “The 2021 budget is split for legal and proposed outside additional counsel and the miscellaneous legal contracts. It’s up to you all where you want to go with this.”
City Attorney Pam Booker said she had discussed options with individual council members of hiring an additional attorney or contracting for outside legal services.
“If we continue in the path we have gone before of contracting with outside legal counsel, even though the hourly rate is a little bit higher, we would not be bringing on someone to utilize those funds immediately,” she said.
Booker said the additional funds would be on an as-needed basis and would be sufficient for what legal counsel anticipates for the next budget year based on some of the items it had last year.
“It would be an ideal situation if those funds for outside legal services are not utilized, however, we do have a pending litigation,” Booker said. “The city may or may not be engaged in later between Minto, [the Seminole Improvement District] and Indian Trail that requires some attention, as well as future matters as we continue to grow and develop.”
She said the $532,000 total includes her salary, as well as paralegal, anticipated outside legal expenses, software, accounting and other legal costs.
Councilman JohnPaul O’Connor said he would rather see an emergency fund set aside for unforeseen legal expenses than add to the legal budget.
“We really do need to be more fiscally responsible if we think we’re going to stand on our own two feet,” O’Connor said.
Booker said the costs cannot always be controlled for outside litigation.
“I can’t tell you if that’s going to be a $10,000 endeavor or $100,000,” she said. “If you get in it, you’ll get updates on where those expenses are. Once you get engaged in litigation, it’s difficult to figure out.”
In a memo to the council, Cassel said that under the current organizational structure, the city manager has little ability to determine what the city attorney is involved in.
“The city attorney is independent to determine what they are involved in,” Cassel wrote. “The city attorney works directly for the city council, as such the budget and what the attorney is involved in is the direct responsibility of the council. Therefore, it is the council’s responsibility to set the budget and provide direction. The city manager and accounting staff’s responsibility is to ensure the invoices are paid and expenses tracked as part of the overall adopted budget.”
The council’s first reading and public hearing on the budget is set for Monday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. Learn more about Westlake’s budget at www.westlakegov.com.