Growth in Woodlake prompts more spending, staffing

First look at Woodlake’s fiscal-year 2021-2022 budget highlights accomplishments and growing pains of more housing, business and infrastructure

WOODLAKE – Woodlake’s proposed $27.9 million budget is reflective of its growth of late, showing the fruits and labors of more housing, business and infrastructure.

As the 13th fastest growing city in California at 2.93% growth, Woodlake added 229 residents in the last year. With net general fund expenditures at $9,840,780 and projected revenues at $9,895,335, City Administrator Ramon Lara said the balanced budget brings more opportunity and stability for Woodlake.

“With growth comes the ability to be a little bit more aggressive on infrastructure projects, and being able to make sure we’re sustainable long term,” Lara said, “and that’s what the infrastructure projects are going to do.”

More people generally require more infrastructure, and that’s exactly what Woodlake plans to do. A $2.5 million project to construct a 1.5-mile sewer main line in the city’s industrial park is on the books for fiscal year 2021-2022, laying the groundwork for more industrial growth.

“Right now, the majority of our industrial park is on septic tanks,” Lara said. “As we continue to grow our industrial park and add more and more businesses, the last thing we want to do is create groundwater issues by allowing too many septic tanks.”

In addition to the industrial park, the city will also be putting up $5.5 million for a city-wide sewer main line project to accommodate future housing, industrial and commercial developments. Lara said the city has significant interest from single-family housing developers, and will close the fiscal year out with the completion of 59 units at Castlerock Estates Phase 3 in June. The Valencia Heights, Hillside Estates, Kaweah Homes and Greenwood housing developments are all slated for construction in fiscal year 2021-2022.

“At any point this coming fiscal year, we may have up to four housing developments under construction,” Lara said. “You’re talking about close to 300 homes, so it can be a significant amount for a small city like us.”

Woodlake’s proposed centerpiece at the southwest corner of Valencia Boulevard and Naranjo Boulevard, the Town Center project, is set to begin construction this year. As of now, the only certainty is a dance studio, which comes after the success of the Woodlake Community Center creating a need for more space to accommodate dance and exercise classes. Sitting at the intersection of two state routes, the possibilities for business at the Town Center project include a restaurant, two office spaces at about 1,000 square feet a piece and a commercial gym.

The 19-acre Antelope Creek Park—proposed with a sports field, multi-age playgrounds, yoga and demonstration gardens, arbors, dog park, trail system, BMX bike pump track and a skatepark—is also in the works, awaiting the approval of an $8.4 million grant from the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Program.

With two more multi-million roundabout projects also set for construction, Woodlake has its work cut out in capital improvements. That’s why the Public Works Department is looking to eliminate the currently vacant maintenance II position and fill it with a capital projects manager, filling the city’s need for a staff member with project management and engineering experience and stepping up code enforcement.

“That person is going to take on some of our bigger capital projects, and that will allow staff previously working on similar projects to be able to focus more on code enforcement,” Lara said. “We’re actually adding three positions, but we’re eliminating three positions. So it’s a lot of restructuring.”

It’s no secret that Woodlake has become a destination for the cannabis industry in Tulare County, and community projects like “The Club,” a boys and girls club set to open at the Woodlake Community Center this summer thanks to a $600,000 cannabis-related grant, are just the beginning of what’s possible with the money coming in. Since passing Measure S—a local tax on marijuana businesses at a maximum rate of 10% of gross receipts or $25 per square foot—in 2017, the city of under 8,000 has amassed about $1.5 million in marijuana tax revenue, with about $880,000 that has been reinvested into parks and recreation.

“We were always real conservative with our cannabis tax measure, it was always like icing on the cake for us,” Lara said. “One thing we were always clear about is that cannabis revenue will not subside the services we’re already providing.”

The city will use some of its cannabis tax revenue to fund a new police officer position in the new fiscal year, as well as add another new police vehicle to its fleet. In the past few years the city has been able to fund three new parks with its cannabis tax revenue.

“While we go conservative with it, it’s doing well for us,” Lara said, “but it’s also one of those things where the better it does, the more new projects we will do.”

According to the budget the city does have over $100,000 in outstanding utilities fees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with no mechanism in place to recover connection fees and cannot shut anyone down because of a state moratorium on utility shut offs through June 30.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s “May Revise” $75.7 billion budget surplus included a $100 billion pandemic recovery package, in which the governor proposed $2 billion to pay off Californians’ unpaid gas, water and electricity bills.

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