Mayor Hardey has helped city get back on sound financial footing

Three years ago, the city of Westlake found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Flash forward to today, and the city has $4 million in reserves, a new police station under construction, and hopes of doubling its population within the decade, according to Westlake Mayor Bob Hardey.

“The city was in dire financial straits, and we came together,” said Hardey, adding the “future is bright” for the Southwest Louisiana city.

The recovery process started, as all do, with some painful changes, such as raising water, gas and sewer rates by 50 percent in 2015. The city also brought in Jerry Milner of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury to help right the ship by refinancing the debt and trimming costs.

Other changes followed that brought the city into the 21st century, Hardey said, such as updating city computer systems; accepting credit and debit utility payments; implementing an electronic ticketing system for the Police Department; and extending hours at City Hall on Fridays.

Nearby industries such as Phillips 66 and Sasol were major partners in Westlake’s recovery through numerous donations, he said. A recent example is the new $50,000 sign at the city’s entrance paid for by Phillips 66 and the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.

Top on Hardey’s list from the start, he said, was replacing the old police station with a brand new building, in the design phase for the past 16 years.

He said he couldn’t stand to walk in the station, built in 1945, because of how frustrated he was by its condition; “termites were the only thing holding it together” and the roof was leaky and stained, he said.

Finally, he said, the city broke ground in October on the $2.8 million Jim “Hawk” Hereford Emergency Response Center, funded with the help of $1 million in state capital outlay dollars. Construction officially began in January.

He said costs came in a bit higher than expected but that officials chose “to build it one time and build it right” instead of doing it in phases.

“This was one of our highest priorities as a council and administration,” Hardey said. “It was so needed.”

Another needed infrastructure project, he said, was the new water well underway on Jones Street, funded with $500,000 in state dollars and a $150,000 donation from Sasol. It’s set to wrap up later this month.

Additionally, the city has leased about 40 acres of land west of Pinederosa Park to Westlake Recreation for the construction of Veterans Memorial Park, to include flags, lighting, a granite memorial, and a 5,000-square-foot support building with onsite parking.

Growth

The big-ticket item and one that could be the catalyst Westlake needs to live up to its potential, Hardey said, is the West Trace Housing Development going up around the golf course.

The developer purchased 77 acres from the city and plans to purchase another 90 this year — a $3.6 million investment that will help fund the long-awaited clubhouse at the course.

Studies show the clubhouse could raise real estate values by about 15 percent and attract 25 percent more golf traffic, he said. It will include a banquet hall and recreation center.

The golf course was built 10 years ago “to get homes,” Hardey said, but has failed to pull in buyers as hoped because it lacked a clubhouse.

“The golf course has definitely been a liability on the city,” he said. “We’ve been losing money for 10 years, but we’re going to turn that liability into an asset.”

He said about 250 homes will go up in the first phase and another 300 in the second phase. In total, West Trace is funding $32 million in infrastructure, including roads and utilities.

He said his goal is for the homes to be affordable, something Southwest Louisiana lacks as its population continues to rise in this period of growth.

A $32 million apartment complex, by Brown Builders of Bossier City, is also underway on Hudson Drive off Sampson Street consisting of around 170 units that will go for $1,000-$1,500 a month.

He described it as a gated community like Nelson Pointe in south Lake Charles. The second phase will see the development of an office, retail and restaurant space.

“This council and I made a decision when we got here in 2015 that either we can stay here and be that little bitty town among all the growth, or we can grow with it,” Hardey said.

He said officials believe the quality of Westlake’s recreation district, schools and infrastructure will be enough to draw new residents. He said the goal is to start lowering the tax burden as more residents pour in.

“We’re going to make every attempt to lower property taxes by some percentage this coming year,” Hardey said, estimating a decrease this next year of around 10 percent to 15 percent.

He said the city receives zero direct dollars from industrial facilities that surround it, since they’re located outside city limits, but is having to cope with the strain on roads and infrastructure.

Even with the increase in sales taxes, mainly from dining, and the projected spike in taxable property, Hardey said, Westlake needs a more lucrative cash cow to keep up.

With this in mind, city leaders negotiated entry into the parish’s gambling pool last year, enabling it to receive $350,000 in annual revenue.

Hardey said his idea for bringing in more money is to install a compressed natural gas station with help from the state on three acres of land south of Interstate 10 west of the old Conoco plant.

He said other cities along the interstate like Beaumont, Texas, and Lafayette have CNG stations where converted vehicles can fill up their tanks.

“I really want to be the first one here to do it, if you can’t tell,” Hardey said with a smile. “It would be a heck of a revenue source for the city of Westlake.”

Hardey has decided to run for mayor for a second term in the November election, and is asking voters to give him and the council the opportunity to continue what they started.

“We work as one team for a common goal to make Westlake a better place to live and raise our families,” Hardey said. “I think we’ve done pretty well.”

 
 

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Westlake Mayor Bob Hardey looks over a map showing areas of expansion in the city.

EmilyFontenotCity and Business Reporter
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