City Of Westlake Plans $10 Million Budget For Fiscal Year 2025

Members of the Westlake City Council heard at their Tuesday, May 21 budget workshop that staff is proposing a $10,303,700 budget for fiscal year 2025.

The budget — called “very preliminary” by City Manager Kenneth Cassel — contains a 15.4 percent, or $1,372,200, increase in total expenditures over the current fiscal year 2024 budget.

All of the increase and a little more comes from plans to set aside $1,382,100 to go with $1,259,800 projected to be in the municipality’s reserve fund by the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year.

The reserves are important because from 2016, when Westlake incorporated, to fiscal year 2023, Minto Communities USA, the area’s largest landowner and developer, supplied millions of dollars to prop up local government services. Now that the agreement has run out, Westlake has to have its own emergency fallback money, Cassel said.

Westlake is no longer a municipal toddler or the new kid on the block. In fact, is maturing faster than anyone expected, with residential buildout possible within the next four to five years.

“We’re now the teenager who’s starting to have some money in our pockets,” Cassel told council members. “Prior to last year, we haven’t had any money [in reserves]. So, we need to look at new ways to do things. We may want to look at adding a financial advisor to our team.”

Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor said he will be pushing staff to lower the city’s property tax rate for the third year in a row while maintaining current services. Cassel said he hopes to be able to do so.

The current Westlake municipal tax rate is 5.0 mills.

Even if the millage rate is lowered, many homeowners will have to pay somewhat more than in 2024 because of increased property values, council members were told.

One of the largest increases homeowners are likely to see on the 2025 tax bill is the fee for solid waste disposal — going from $280 to $324, plus $180 for the county’s disposal fee.

As O’Connor was quick to note, none of that money goes to the city. It’s all passed through to the solid waste hauler and the county.

With residential construction still booming and commercial construction growing, Westlake is expecting a 17.1 percent ($855,804) increase in property tax revenues, according to the preliminary budget, accounting for 74 percent of the city’s revenues.

Cassel said that he and his staff will have a better handle on exact numbers after June 1, when they will receive the estimated taxable property values from the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.

At their Tuesday, July 2 meeting, Westlake council members will see another preliminary budget presentation and approve a tentative millage rate.

On Tuesday, Aug. 6, another budget workshop is scheduled, followed by the first formal budget hearing on Sept. 3, and the second and final budget hearing on Sept. 11.

Also discussed at the May 21 meeting was the city’s Housing Assistance Purchasing Program, known as HAPPY.

The city currently is sitting on $4.3 million in fees charged to homebuyers to fund the program.

“The problem is finding qualified homebuyers,” Cassel said. “They have too much money or too many assets, or the price of the home is too high.”

According to Westlake’s web site, the city partnered with Minto and the Westlake Community Foundation Inc. in “an innovative program to fund eligible applicants under the Housing & Urban Development categories for low-, moderate- and middle-income households based upon income limitations… [in an] effort to maximize the utilization of funding sources for affordable housing and workforce housing assistance.”

The city is working with Minto to tweak the criteria to qualify more homebuyers, Cassel explained.

“My concern is, how do we continue to get [the program] to do what it is intended to do without opening the floodgates for people who don’t need it?” Cassel said.

“We’re well along the way” to finding a solution, Minto attorney Kathryn Rossmell said.

Westlake City Attorney Donald Doody is expected to report the results of the effort to council members on July 2.