Voters will be asked Nov. 5 to renew an income tax levy to support Westlake's infrastructure projects.
City Council approved legislation May 16 to put the 15-year, ⅜ of 1 percent levy on the ballot. The issue generates just over $8 million a year.
Before moving the legislation to council for passage, the council’s finance committee heard from Engineer Bob Kelly. He told the committee that if all planned projects are done, the money in the city's infrastructure improvement fund would be depleted by 2021. The current levy was scheduled to run through 2022. If the renewal is passed, collection will begin after the current levy expires.
He presented information on more than 50 major infrastructure projects the city anticipates will need do between 2020 and 2032. Projects include water main replacement and creation of water retention basins, which Kelly said is a priority. It also includes widening of some roads, adding turning lanes and maintenance or resurfacing, particularly heavily traveled roads. He told council the city has nearly one-half billion dollars in infrastructure, including roads, storm and sanitary sewers, traffic signals, water mains or retention basins.
Most future projects range in cost from $1 million to $4 million. But the list also contained a three-year project to widen Detroit Road between Clague and Crocker roads, which has an estimated price tag of $29 million.
Projects for 2020 include $3.9 million to add turning lanes on Crocker between Hilliard Boulevard and Center Ridge Road and a $3 million water main replacement on Bassett Road from Dover Center Road to Hilliard.
Officials agreed to ask voters to extend the income tax levy another 15 years due to the lengthy three- to five-year process required to design, fund and secure county or state approvals for projects. Several also mentioned the time it takes to work with utility companies to remove and replace power or water lines prior to construction.
They also noted the city rarely gets county or state funding for infrastructure projects because those funds are distributed to communities with critical infrastructure issues and no local funding to fix them.
Levy funds provide a sense of security that Westlake will be able to continue maintaining, repairing or replacing infrastructure, several acknowledged.
During an earlier interview, Mayor Dennis Clough explained the idea for an income tax to support infrastructure projects meant those who work in Westlake paid their share so residents did not shoulder the entire burden. Residents who work outside the city get a 100% rebate from the city’s 1.5% income tax, of which the infrastructure levy is a part.
First presented as a permanent levy in the early 1990s, it was voted down. Clough recalled asking every citizen he talked with what it would take to pass what he felt was an important tax to support the growing city's infrastructure needs. They wanted to know exactly which projects taxes would fund, he said. He revised the plan, asked for a 15-year levy and provided a list of projects. It passed in 1993 and was renewed in 2006. Money from the levy is placed in an Infrastructure Improvement Fund in the city's capital project budget.
Initially, the levy raised $2.3 million annually. But as more businesses opened, the city collected significantly more payroll tax. The levy now generates $8 million annually. City Finance Director Prashant Shah said they are estimating 2% annual growth in income tax revenue over the life of the proposed levy. He emphasized that, as a renewal, it will not increases taxes.
In 2017, Clough asked council to place a renewal levy on the ballot, but it rejected his request, saying it was too soon to renew.