Westlake Council Votes To Keep 2024 Millage Rate Unchanged

The Westlake City Council voted Tuesday, July 11 to hold the line on residential property taxes for the upcoming fiscal year, keeping the tax rate at 5.1 mills, the same as the current year.

The decision comes despite the fact that the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will be the first in which the city will not be underpinned by the municipality’s largest landowner and developer, Minto Communities USA.

“I think we’ll be OK if we’re careful,” City Manager Kenneth Cassel said.

Since Westlake’s incorporation in 2016, Minto has subsidized the municipal government in decreasing amounts. In the 2022 budget, Minto put in $930,000, accounting for 25 percent of the budget. For 2023, Minto was scheduled to put in $762,000, representing 11 percent of the budget.

Westlake’s tax rate was 5.125 mills from 2016 through 2022. Last year, Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor pushed for a symbolic reduction to 5.1 mills.

That means that the average Westlake property owner, with an assessed home value of $450,000 and a $50,000 homestead exemption, would pay approximately $2,040 in city taxes. That does not include taxes levied by other Palm Beach County taxing authorities.

The council acted Wednesday to meet the requirements of Florida’s Truth-in-Millage (TRIM) law. Though work remains on next year’s budget, the action means that the council cannot set a tax rate higher than 5.1 mills to fund the budget.

Westlake’s overall budget for 2023 is $7,899,000, a 23.3 percent increase over the 2022 budget of $6,405,600. That was made possible by a 69 percent increase ($1,371,928) in tax revenues for residential and commercial properties, and Westlake continues to grow rapidly, Cassel said.

“We have an average of 40 to 45 single-family homes coming online each month,” he said. “We had 86 in June. Demand is still strong.”

The council set Tuesday, Aug. 1 at 4:30 p.m. in the council chambers (4005 Seminole Pratt Whitney Road) for their first budget workshop, even though setting the TRIM rate before finalizing the budget “is putting the cart before the horse,” Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor said. “This is one of the most important things we do on the council.”

Cassel told the council that the proposed budget contains “minimal increases.” He did, however, make them aware that he plans to ask for a $50 per hour increase for City Attorney Donald J. Doody of the firm Goren Cherof Doody & Ezrol, and a new staff position to serve as an event coordinator to oversee the four quarterly community gatherings scheduled by the council.

Councilwoman Charlotte Leonard said the council will listen closely to Cassel’s recommendations, but nothing is yet set.

“That’s why we need the workshop — to have those discussions,” she said.

Cassel said the biggest budget challenge will be determining how the community will fund its share of construction of a 50-acre park just south of Seminole Ridge High School. The park is a joint venture between the city and the Seminole Improvement District and is expected to be completed in stages.

Major commercial projects such as the Publix at Westlake Plaza and Pinnacle Self-Storage will have a positive impact on the city’s coffers, but not until the 2025 budget year, Cassel said.

“Hopefully, that will loosen [the budget] up some, but not until we get a lot more commercial out here,” he said. “Time will tell.”

Westlake’s first official budget hearing will be Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. The second and final hearing will be Tuesday, Sept. 12.