City council says it wants to work with Tulare County Economic Development Corporation to bring a hotel, commercial development off Highway 198
FARMERSVILLE – One year after withdrawing from the Tulare County Economic Development Corporation the city of Farmersville is back for business.
At its May 24 meeting, the Farmersville City Council voted to rejoin the EDC at a cost of just $2,500 for fiscal year 2021-22. The decision came two weeks after Nathan Ahle, new CEO for the EDC, came before the city to make the council aware of its renewed focus on increasing leads, improving markting to site selectors, and enhancing relationships with all eight city councils and the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The EDC’s mission is to assist in business development and job creation by attracting, supporting, and retaining business and industry throughout Tulare County, its cities, and communities.
“We are excited to have Farmersville back in the fold,” said Nathan Ahle, executive director of the EDC.
In an interview after the meeting, Ahle said Farmersville was clear in its goals for the city and focused on working with the EDC to bring a hotel to town.
Councilmember Paul Boyer said the city has been trying to bring a hotel to town for years and have had some passing interest, but nothing serious despite being a prime location for a hotel with possibly an adjacent shopping center. Two years ago, the city council approved a tax rebate plan to help lure large hotel developers to its location off Highway 198 on the way to Sequoia National Park. But before it could provide developers with a tax rebate, the city had to pass a tax despite there not being any hotels in town.
Farmersville put a bed tax on last November’s ballot. Measure Q would have imposed a 10% tax on all bookings at hotels in Farmersville, known as a transient occupancy tax (TOT). The 10% rate would be equal to TOTs in Dinuba, Tulare and Visalia but more than the 8% charged in Exeter, Lindsay and Porterville. The tax can be a flat rate per night or a percentage of room fees charged by the hotel. The tax would have generated an estimated $185,000 per year for the city, even with just one hotel, but narrowly failed with just under 49% of the vote.
City manager Jennifer Gomez told the council she was willing to work with the EDC to facilitate communications with other agencies, to address questions from potential developers and to increase commercial development.
The council’s decision is a sign the relationship with Farmersville is on the mend after the city soured on the organization last year. With the exception of a cost-exempted year in 2017, Farmersville had been a public member of the EDC since its formation in 1983 when it voted in May 2020 to leave the ranks.
At the time, Mayor Greg Gomez said his decision to leave the EDC was also based on a governance structure that would diminish, and some years eliminate, Farmersville’s vote on the board. At its April 22 meeting, the EDC presented a new formula that gave a seat to one elected official from every public entity contributing more than $10,000 to the EDC, which would include the County and the cities of Dinuba, Porterville, Tulare and Visalia. Members contributing less than $10,000 (Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay and Woodlake) would share a single seat that would rotate annually among representatives for each city. Farmersville was set to be first in the rotation for the 2020-21 year, but that didn’t score any points with Gomez.
“It was pretty egregious,” Gomez said. “They want our money but not for us to have any say in the direction of that money.”
Boyer, Farmersville’s representative on the board, said he was hopeful something could be worked out so that the county would remain in the EDC without sacrificing representation from each local government. Boyer was the lone dissenting vote in Farmersville’s 3-1 decision to leave the EDC, as Councilmember Tina Hernandez was absent. Farmersville’s membership for the 2020-21 year would have been a little more than $3,100.
“I know it’s a meager amount, but just keeping it in the budget means we do some promotional things on our own, like a chamber of commerce,” Gomez said.
The formula was pitched as a compromise to increasing the county’s contribution to 40% of the public-sector budget but increasing the voting power of the county’s representative. The change would have given the county’s vote 16% of the public vote instead of its current 11%.
Last month’s meeting in Farmersville was just the latest in Ahle’s whirlwind tour of local government boards since being named the new CEO for the organization in February. Farmersville was one of four cities to leave the EDC in the last two years including Exeter, Lindsay and Porterville.
“We have to tell the story of this organization,” Ahle said after taking the reins of the EDC. “We need to work collaboratively with our cities and counties and private partners to accomplish bigger things than we can do on our own.”