Westlake A Step Closer To Second-Straight Year Of Trimming Tax Rate

A rendering of the new outparcel building at the Groves Market.

The Westlake City Council adopted a tentative property tax rate of 5.0 mills for the 2024 fiscal year at its first budget hearing Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The rate represents a small decrease from the city’s 2023 tax rate of 5.1 mills, which was a decrease from the 5.125 mills used from the city’s inception in 2016 through the 2022 fiscal year.

“This was no small feat,” Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor said. “I challenged the staff to lower the millage rate… I thank the staff for sharpening their pencils and getting it done.”

City Manager Kenneth Cassel, who had proposed keeping the rate at 5.1 for 2024, explained that he and his staff looked at more recent numbers that came in better than expected, making a decrease feasible.

“We want [the city] to remain lean,” Vice Mayor Greg Langowski said. “We’re committed to keeping money in people’s pockets.”

If the tax rate remained at 5.1 mills, the average Westlake homeowner with an assessed value of $450,000 and a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay approximately $2,040 in city property taxes. At 5.0 mills, the same homeowner will pay approximately $2,000. That does not include taxes levied by other Palm Beach County taxing authorities.

In July, the council agreed to set the tax rate at 5.1 mills to meet Florida’s Truth-in-Millage (TRIM) deadline. The action meant that the council could not set a tax rate higher than 5.1 mills but could decrease it.

The city’s proposed $9,144,800 budget represents a $1,245,800 or 15.8 percent increase over the 2023 budget of $7,899,000, funded by a 51.2 percent or $1,709,369 increase in property tax revenues — for a total of $5,054,932 — as Westlake continues to be one of Florida’s fastest-growing municipalities.

The numbers vary only slightly from the earlier staff-proposed budget.

The 2024 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, will be the first for Westlake without a major subsidy from developer Minto Communities USA as a backstop. Minto has kicked in millions since 2016 to get the city government on its feet. The company supplied $930,000 for the 2022 budget. In 2023, Minto was scheduled to put in $762,000, but the city did not need to draw on the funds.

The second and final budget hearing will be Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m.

In a related matter, the assessment for residential solid waste services will remain at $280.60 per parcel for the upcoming fiscal year. Cassel said he plans to go out for bid on the service before the 2025 fiscal year.

In other business:

  • The council voted unanimously to approve a site plan modification to the Grove Market at Westlake shopping plaza, also known as the Winn-Dixie plaza, at the northeast corner of Persimmon Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. The change to the 9.98-acre site increases the previously approved square footage for the unbuilt outparcel at the corner from 3,675 square feet to 8,317 square feet for a one-story building to house retail and medical office space. A bank also is being planned for the plaza. It will be the third bank coming to Westlake, Cassel noted.
  • The council voted unanimously to prohibit medical marijuana treatment centers and dispensing centers within the City of Westlake.

Cassel explained that the ordinance was not necessarily designed to permanently prohibit such businesses, but to give the council greater control if such a business wishes to locate in the area. Otherwise, if a medical marijuana treatment center were to suddenly open its doors, the city could not then go back and restrict or prohibit it.

With the ordinance in place, a medical marijuana treatment center could apply for a variance, but that would be up to this or future councils on a case-by-case basis.

  • The council amended its golf cart ordinance to bring it into line with all state regulations. Representatives from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, which provides law enforcement services for the community, said the change will make it easier for deputies to enforce golf cart regulations on Westlake’s streets and sidewalks, while noting that several developments do not seek or want traffic enforcement or patrols within their boundaries.
  • The qualifying dates for the 2024 municipal election were set for Nov. 7 at noon through Nov. 14 at noon. The election will be held Tuesday, March 19, 2024, to coincide with the Presidential Preference Primary. The council’s Seat 1 and Seat 3 will be up for election.
  • At 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12, the council will meet in a workshop session with the Seminole Improvement District Board of Supervisors to continue planning for the 50-acre park on Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. The city and the district are developing the park directly south of Seminole Ridge High School as a joint project.