Development, tax base growth keep Westlake rolling

Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough addresses the West Shore Chamber of Commerce during his March 11 State of the City address at LaCentre. Photo by Denny Wendell

For the 29th year, members of the local business community reserved their lunch hour to listen as Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough shared updates on the city’s operations over the past 12 months. Always one of the most well-attended luncheons put on by the West Shore Chamber of Commerce, Clough’s annual State of the City address on March 12 offered highlights of the activities of Westlake’s various departments and an overview of its financials.

Last year the city’s building department issued residential and commercial construction permits with a total value of nearly $100 million. The planning department approved more than 63,000 square feet of residential and commercial development, more than half of which was for the automotive sector.

The Westlake Fire Department responded to 4,300 calls for service; the police department had 31,000 calls for service and made 4,800 arrests. The service department completed a sewer marathon, cleaning 26.2 miles of storm and sanitary sewers; they also swept 1,300 miles of roadway and sold 10,000 cubic yards of composted leaf humus and mulch.

Community Services gave away $20,000 in emergency food distributions and offered activities and support for nearly 12,000 patrons. The Recreation Center boasts 13,500 members and the department plans to convert one course at Meadowood to a driving range.

The city prides itself on being a business-friendly community with sound fiscal management, as well as an enjoyable place to live, play and raise a family. Headed by an accountant with nearly three decades of city leadership under his belt, Westlake’s administration remains focused on continued, manageable growth and maintaining its status as a premier destination for businesses and residents alike.

“The mission of the administration, city council and myself is to enhance the quality of life for all the residents in our community … [and] provide the highest level of service in a very cost-effective and efficient manner,” Mayor Clough said. “We want to make sure that we utilize the resources that we have responsibly, effectively and efficiently.”

Westlake’s main source of revenue is income tax receipts, followed by property taxes. While the income tax rate has remained at 1.5 percent, the city’s revenue collection continues to increase due to small business expansion, the relocation of corporations including Equity Trust and American Greetings, and community reinvestment by stalwarts St. John Medical Center and Hyland Software.

“The city of Westlake doesn’t stand still. We continue to have businesses that locate here, that expand here, that improve their operations here,” said Clough. “We’re very pleased that we can create that environment where [businesses] want to expand and … [their] support continues to keep our taxes pretty low.”

In fact, the city’s growth has allowed for a steady reduction of the property tax rate since 1985, a decrease of nearly 3.5 mills over that span. Westlake’s residential and commercial property tax rates are among the lowest in Cuyahoga County.

Of course, no public address by the Westlake mayor would be complete these days without addressing the city’s water dispute. Clough touched on the issue when discussing Westlake’s infrastructure fund, in which a share of the income tax rate (three-eighths percent, as approved by voters in 1993 and again in 2006) is earmarked for infrastructure projects. Clough stressed the importance of an infrastructure fund that is separate from the general fund during an economic downturn, when the first expense cities often cut is investment in infrastructure.

“We have not [cut infrastructure spending], we do not think that’s a great idea and it’s actually one of the reasons why the city of Westlake has actively been looking for alternatives to our water supplier,” Clough said. “Many of the dollars have to go to replace water lines, yet we receive no money from selling water, because it all goes to the city of Cleveland.”

Cleveland Water is contractually obligated to patch and repair lines, but Clough stated that Westlake doesn’t favor the idea of putting in new roadways over patched water lines. Westlake uses its infrastructure funds – $32 million since 1995 – to install new lines during road construction, money that the city would rather use on road and storm sewer projects. The dispute is currently in the court process.

Westlake was the first suburb in Ohio, Clough said, to achieve a triple-A bond rating, which it has carried for the past 13 years. The city’s revenues continue to outpace its expenditures. “We are pretty much a debt-free community at this point in time,” said Clough. “We’re not going to be leaving much debt, if any, to our sons, our daughters, our grandchildren. That’s the way we want to keep it.”

Looking forward to the rest of 2014, the big news within the city will be the addition of American Greetings and the completion of Crocker Park, Canterbury Road intersection improvements, continued evaluation of an alternative water provider and the consideration of a consolidated Westshore fire district.

A video of the State of the City address will be broadcast on Westlake’s public access television channel and streamed online at mediasite.cityofwestlake.org.

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Volume 6, Issue 6, Posted 9:11 AM, 03.18.2014