Mayor Clough shares annual State of the City address with residents
As part of our mission to inform and engage the community, the Westlake | Bay Village Observer hosted Mayor Dennis Clough, along with members of his administration and City Council, for a special State of the City address to an audience of residents on March 19.
Earlier in the month Clough offered his presentation to the business community, speaking for the 34th year at the West Shore Chamber of Commerce luncheon. This year, in what promises to be a new annual tradition, Clough accepted the Observer’s invitation to share his address with Westlake residents during an evening session at the recreation center.
An affable speaker, polished by his decades in office, the mayor’s appearances are among the chamber’s most well-attended events of the year. In his address to the residents, Clough adopted an even more conversational style, bantering with the audience and encouraging questions.
He was clearly in his element, sharing with residents the annual speech where he gets to brag about the position that Westlake is in, an undeniably solid standing spurred by decades of controlled growth.
“The city of Westlake can boast of a very strong, sound financial position,” Clough said. “It’s taken a lot of work, it’s taken a lot of years, but we are committed to improving the quality of services as well as managing the tax dollars so that we can keep the taxes pretty low.”
The city’s general fund balance was over $37 million in 2018, up from $969,000 when Clough took office in 1986. The city’s total debt dropped to $4.6 million last year from $13 million in 1986, peaking at $35 million in the late ‘90s.
Westlake has the lowest residential and commercial property taxes of all West Shore communities, and earmarks a portion of its income tax collection for infrastructure improvements, via a tax levy. That three-eighths percent levy will be up for renewal by voters this November.
All of the city’s road, water line and storm sewer projects are funded by the levy. “In order to keep the quality of roads that we have, we need to have that renewed,” said Clough.
Designed as a 15-year levy in 1993 and renewed in 2006, the city wanted to give voters the option to vote down a renewal if they weren’t satisfied with the way funds were being spent.
“We wanted to make sure we had a designated source for infrastructure,” Clough explained. “What’s the first thing that cities cut out when they don’t have enough money? Capital projects, infrastructure. So we designated that for that purpose.”
On the subject of infrastructure, Clough discussed the status of Westlake’s plan to purchase water from suppliers in Cleveland, Avon Lake and Elyria/North Ridgeville, stating that “it makes sense to explore all opportunities.”
The primary sticking point in Cleveland Water’s contract language has been a requirement that Westlake turn over all of its water lines. The city currently owns 80 percent of its water lines, while Cleveland Water owns the main trunk lines.
Westlake has spent more than $30 million in the last decade or so replacing old lines as roadwork projects are completed. Clough expressed concern that Cleveland Water would be able to invest the needed funds to continue replacing aging lines.
“If you want to replace a road that’s got a bad water line in it, you’ve got to ask [Cleveland Water] to come out and replace that water line and you’re competing with all the other cities in Cuyahoga County whose water lines are probably older and we’d just stand in line. We’ve been doing that for years; that’s why we depend on ourselves.”
The issue has been tied up in the courts for several years, although Clough indicated that most rulings have gone in Westlake’s favor. The city expects to start moving forward again with meetings in 3-4 months.
Other major projects Clough talked about included the Clague Park aquatic center, estimated to be finished in late spring/early summer, and the new community center, which is still a year and a half away.
The future of Meadowood Golf Course was discussed, with Clough explaining that no decisions will be made until the aquatic center and community center are completed. One golf course bidder indicated a desire to turn the current community center adjacent to the course into a restaurant.
Residents asked more than a dozen questions about roads, development sites and traffic issues, among others. Mayor Clough provided candid answers, seeming to enjoy the opportunity to interact with the community. The full address and Q&A session will be available on the city’s website and cable TV channel.