Building Boom Continues To Fuel Westlake’s Budget Prospects

A request to move a secondary entrance to the planned Orchards neighborhood was among the items on a sparse agenda at the Monday, Sept. 13 meeting of the Westlake City Council.

The resolution to allow the move further north on Persimmon Blvd. East was approved 5-0, but a comment by a representative of developer Minto put smiles on many faces.

Attorney Tara Duhy, representing the developer, told the council that when 16 homes Minto’s latest neighborhood were made available for sale, they sold in just minutes.

Coupled with the recent opening of a new 7-Eleven convenience store at 4670 Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, local leaders continue to be impressed by the quick pace of Westlake’s development.

“It’s absolutely uncanny,” Vice Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor said after the meeting. “There’s really something special going on out here.”

The Orchards is a 64.7-acre buildable tract, not including a 13.9-acre lake, that was planned to contain 240 single-family homes. As a result of the approved access relocation, Minto gained one unit, for a total of 241 homes with an overall density of 3.66 dwelling units per acre. The development “will contain a range of architectural styles, drawing from historic coastal styles with a cleaner, more contemporary vibe,” according to the replat application.

“We’re the place people want to be,” City Manager Ken Cassel said. “The price point is still right.”

While noting that it is not the fault of the developers busily building homes in Westlake, Councilman Patric Paul expressed concern that affordable housing in the community is going by the wayside due to supply-and-demand pressures.

“I just don’t see a slowdown,” he said. “It’s nothing but up and forward out here.”

That is good news for Westlake’s future budget prospects. Cassel told council members it is likely that — retail property taxes aside, based on residential property taxes alone — Westlake will be able to balance its 2024 budget without a subsidy from Minto.

“I think this shows the city was set up with sustainability in mind,” Cassel said.

Minto, which owns most of the land in the 6.5 square miles of Westlake, agreed to help support the municipality from its 2016 incorporation until 2021. That agreement has been extended to 2023. Minto contributed $1.5 million to the city’s general fund during the current fiscal year, according to a comparison shared with the new budget proposed by staff.

Minto’s aid will account for only 37 percent of Westlake’s upcoming budget of $3,685,700 — down from 50 percent in the current year.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, that proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-22 passed its first reading on a 4-1 vote with Paul voting no.

Paul later said that his objection is to a $60,000 budget item for Fourth of July fireworks when the municipality is still not fully self-sustainable.

O’Connor, who supports the patriotic pyrotechnics, said he is working to obtain corporate sponsorship for the planned show, and that most or all of the $60,000 allocated for the event could then be used for other purposes.

“I’m confident that I can get almost all, if not all, of the show paid for by corporate sponsors,” O’Connor said.

Paul said he would support the event if corporate sponsorships are obtained. “Fine, go ahead. But not with city money, not with tax money,” he said.

The second and final budget hearing is set for Sept. 27. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Westlake plans to hold the line on residential property taxes at 5.126 mills for the upcoming fiscal year. That is the same rate as when the city was established. That means that the average Westlake homeowner with an assessed valuation of $350,000 and a $50,000 homestead exemption would owe approximately $1,537 in city taxes. That does not include taxes levied by other Palm Beach County taxing authorities.

Though Westlake’s tax rate is in line with similar municipalities, O’Connor hopes to see that rate go down over time. “It is 1,000 percent my intent to get that millage rate down,” he said.

According to the budget proposal, Westlake’s biggest challenges in 2022 will be locating and establishing a permanent city hall; final implementation of software allowing electronic submission, approval and inspections reporting in the Building Department; maintaining the proper level of services while minimizing the overall cost of services; drafting and passage of the remaining Land Development Regulations in order to move from the interim code; identifying services needed in the future and available revenues; maintaining cooperation with other agencies surrounding and impacting the community; and working with the developers and other third parties to maintain Westlake’s original vision.