By Kevin Kelley
An expected request of voters to extend an existing recreation tax will come in November, not March, city officials agreed.
City leaders have proposed extending the one-eighth of 1 percent (0.00125) income tax to fund up to $25 million in proposed recreation projects, as well as a new community services center.
First collected in 1996 to fund construction of the Westlake Recreation Center, the tax is earmarked for recreation purposes. The tax, which raises approximately $1.9 million annually, expires at the end of 2020. An extension of 15 to 20 years would be necessary to pay for new amenities suggested by a 2015 recreation master plan study, city leaders said.
In May, City Council President Mike Killeen suggested placing the extension request before voters in March 2016 so Westlake could borrow money before anticipated interest rate increases.
As recently as last month, Mayor Dennis Clough told council the city could provide voters with a proposal for recreation projects within the next few months. A fairly detailed plan would be necessary to win voters’ approval for the tax renewal, city officials agreed.
However, city leaders ultimately concluded that a proposal could not be readied and promoted before the March 16 primary election.
“It’s just too tight a timing to get something together for the public,” Killeen told West Life.
A proposed ordinance placing the rec tax renewal on the March 16 ballot was introduced at the Dec. 3 City Council meeting but left on first reading. That ordinance will either be defeated or amended to change the election date to Nov. 8, Killeen said.
An upgrade or replacement of Peterson Pool at Clague Park was the top priority of residents surveyed in 2014. A new aquatics center would cost around $5 million, the recreation master plan report concluded.
Clough and council members have agreed that the pool would be among the first recreation improvements.
The recreation master plan offered multiple options, and final decisions would need to be made on which options will ultimately be pursued. For example, under one plan, all of Meadowood Golf Course would be redeveloped into a park with baseball and soccer fields. Another alternative would redevelop just the Yellow Course for athletic fields and leave the other two golf courses untouched.
But the biggest decision to be made is where to locate a new community services center. Three locations are still under serious consideration, the council president said – the location of the current center at Center Ridge and Crocker roads, city-owned property next to Westlake Porter Public Library and the Westlake Recreation Center site.
Killeen, who favors building a new community services center at the rec center site, said a decision will be made early next year.
The location of a new community services center was the subject of a Dec. 1 council committee meeting. However, no decision was made.
“There’s no clear answer on it,” said Ward 5 Councilman Ken Brady, who heads the recreation committee. “It’s still up in the air.”
Clough said he is also leaning to the rec center property. Locating the community and recreation centers at the same site will offer synergies in terms of events and programming, the mayor said.
“But I’m not sold on anything yet,” Clough told West Life. However, the mayor said he is in favor of building a new community services center instead of adding on to the existing center.
A consultant’s report on the location and spacial needs of a new community services center is expected to be released this week, city officials said.
Another piece of the puzzle is continuing real estate negotiations between the city and Westlake City Schools. The school district has proposed swapping its headquarters building at Center Ridge Road and Hilliard Boulevard with the city for the land next to Porter Library, where a single elementary school could be built. Clough said there is no news to report on those negotiations.
Clough said it’s probably for the best that the recreation tax renewal vote will come in November. Because the Nov. 8 ballot will include the presidential election, more residents will likely vote. The mayor said if the tax extension passes then, it would demonstrate the support of a larger portion of the population of Westlake.