Bergeron, McMillin, Racca seek to lead Westlake
Published 12:14 pm Saturday, July 30, 2022
Westlake mayoral candidates Michael Bergeron, Hal McMillin and Dan Racca qualified last week. Although the election is not until November, each was asked by the Southwest Daily News to give readers a chance to start thinking about how they’ll cast their vote by answering the following questions.
Next week’s paper will contain responses to different questions from Westlake’s city council and police chief candidates.
1. If, in this next term, you could accomplish only one thing for the City of Westlake, what would that one thing be?
BERGERON: My main focus in my first term will be to clean up our city of hurricane debris, structures that need to come down, clogged drainage and finally, to update aging infrastructure. Westlake is an amazing city in which to live in and we see that every day in the incredible people that live here. People that care about each other and give their time to serve each other. Now is the time to make sure the appearance of our city reflects the true spirit of it and its people. My proposal, once the casino opens back up and starts investing tax dollars into the city, is to not tie that money up in projects but to use it to focus on cleaning our city. For far too long we have waited for more dollars to come from sources outside the city. I feel it’s time to take ownership and responsibility for the city and its appearance. We need to start investing our own dollars in cleaning and beautifying our streets, so that all of our residents are proud of the neighborhoods in which they live. It is time to prepare this city for development and encourage private developers to come into it.
MCMILLIN: There are many things that need extra attention in our city to encourage growth and expand opportunities for our citizens, however, we need to immediately work on getting our city cleaned up. Westlake is beautiful, but it was significantly impacted by Hurricane Laura, and we have not fully recovered. Cleaning up the city is a big and immediate challenge. It will take grant money, community support, and clear guidance.
The city has already applied for additional FEMA assistance for cleanup and debris removal missed in the first effort after the storm. Our citizens need assistance to repair and remove storm damage, and this needs to be a priority. As mayor, I will work with the city council to address this issue immediately. From grant writing and code enforcement, to boots on the ground cleanup, it will be my honor to help beautify our City.
Sustainable economic development begins with a good foundation. The immediate challenge is to shore up our foundation by cleaning up our city. Over the years, I have learned some best practices for getting this done. I want to put my proven leadership to work for our city by pushing forward for a full recovery to enhance the pride we have in our hometown. “We must clean up our city!”
RACCA: Clean up debris left since we first contracted debris removal. A large amount of debris was put out after the final pass. We have requested additional assistance from FEMA and are awaiting approval.
2. What do you see as Westlake’s biggest challenge in the coming one or two years?
BERGERON: For me it’s not so much the challenge that the city faces, but what I feel challenged to get done as the next mayor. It’s time for a fresh new vision for the city, one that focuses on our people and the neighborhoods in which they live. Everyone of our residents have sacrificed over the last decade to get our city to where it is, and now it’s time to relieve that burden by lowering our property tax rate to be competitive with cities around us. Westlake currently has one of the highest property taxes in the parish. By putting a pause on utility rate increases, the administration can alleviate the hurt that so many of our young and “young at heart” families are experiencing with this economy. In all things that we do we must keep in mind that there are real people on the other end of our decisions and how that affects them.
MCMILLIN: While I have a robust platform with specific goals that I will work with the council to achieve, the biggest challenge will be leading the city in these uncertain economic times. With prices rising on most everything, I will make every effort to minimize the cost of city services, while working on needed infrastructure projects. Where possible, I will seek grants, donations, and cooperative endeavors to upgrade our sewage holding and pumping capacity. Additionally, I will make upgraded gas meters a priority so that we will have more accurate and timely readings. Enhancements to our gas system can provide a future revenue source for our city to offset costs to our citizens.
The second biggest challenge that needs to be addressed in the first year is city planning. With all the development already underway and the various entities involved, we must develop the necessary synergies to ensure that existing neighbors are not negatively impacted by traffic, drainage problems, or other unintended consequences. We can minimize growing pains when we work together and consider all the impacts of these development activities. As mayor, I will work toward positive growth in our city that values all of our citizens.
RACCA: Inflation and economic downturn are one of my biggest concerns. With interest rates rising, home sales may decrease. I am also concerned about the effect of inflation on our citizens who have to pay utility bills, purchase medicine and cover other living expenses. Inflation will also increase our cost on natural gas and sewer fees which will have to be passed on to the customers/citizens.
3. What will you do to bring more business and residential development to Westlake?
BERGERON: I refer you back to my previous answers. If we focus on infrastructure, clean our entire city, get competitive in our tax and utility rates, along with having an administration that truly cares for the people of our city, we can experience growth in both residential and commercial development . I will be proposing a new design plan for our main street, Sampson Street, with input from our residents. This plan will give us the opportunity to know 5, 10, 15 years from now what we want our city to look like and together, work toward that common goal. During the construction of the new casino, the city gave a tax incentive to help get that project in the city. I would like to expand on that concept and encourage our “mom & pop shops” to update their businesses to meet the new design plan on Sampson Street. Therefore not only are we investing back into those that have given so much, we are also helping to revitalize our business areas. In summary we will use competitive tax rates, tax incentives for development, and improved and maintained infrastructure to spur development.
MCMILLIN: With more than 30 years of business and government experience in Southwest Louisiana, I have the vision, knowledge, and relationships to deliver on an exciting economic development plan for Westlake. Our city has a God-given natural resource of a beautiful riverfront in the historic downtown area. I will work with the council and our citizens to develop a plan to open opportunities along the riverfront. This vision will take time, but it is achievable. With patterns like Fairhope, Ala., and Kemah, Tex., we can learn from others and begin taking steps in this direction.
I’m excited about long-term development and I will build a team to deliver on this vision that will enhance our quality of life and provide career opportunities for our citizens. However, we have existing businesses that need the city’s support now. It is often the existing businesses that can have the greatest impact on economic development if we will just work together and meet their needs. I will work directly with existing businesses to help them thrive. Too many businesses in our city close their doors before they can really get established. I will work to change that by ensuring that they have the contacts and assistance needed to be successful.
As the next Mayor of Westlake, I plan to build on Mayor Bob Hardey’s model of “One City, One Team.”
RACCA: Because of Hurricane Laura and COVID, many of our businesses were forced to close. However, many are beginning to reopen. We are hoping that with the opening of the Recreation District’s water park and other recreation facilities, the reopening of Horseshoe Casino in December of this year, along with our golf complex and the many new houses being built will encourage economic activity on Sampson Street due to the increased traffic. At some point, I would like to encourage the development on the riverfront with a cross walk from the Horseshoe Casino to the river front property. Concerning residential development, DR Horton has built approximately 200 homes in our National Golf Club of Louisiana complex and is currently building 60 more homes in the Sawgrass Subdivision. When all housing is complete, there will be approximately 700 homes.