Farmersville finds revenue to boost services

City plans to add positions, take on major projects to catch up on 20 years of deferred maintenance and stagnant staffing levels

FARMERSVILLE – The city of Farmersville has struggled for most of the new millennium as stagnant revenues stifled staffing levels causing city services to be run by skeleton crews. But things have stabilized since 2018 and the city’s next budget is projecting enough money to begin catching up on 20 years’ worth of issues.

“Now that we have money, we’re at least able to put a plan in place to start raising our standards,” city manager Jennifer Gomez said. “But it’s not enough money to do everything at once.”

In his budget message to the city council last month, finance director Steve Huntley said revenues for fiscal year 2021-22 are only projected to increase by 5%, but that should be enough for the city to end the year with a $2.6 million surplus. A large chunk of that is due to cannabis revenue. Recreational marijuana sales are projected to generate $1.4 million in the coming fiscal year after a full year of having two dispensaries in operation. Token Farms opened in October 2019 and Valley Pure opened in November 2019. Gomez said a third dispensary, Platinum Connections, is awaiting approval for its building permit with Tulare County, which handles permitting for the city, and will likely open sometime during the 2021-22 year. The new dispensary will be located on a vacant lot west of the existing dispensaries north of town on Noble Avenue.

“The post-pandemic economy is roaring back to life but there are questions locally regarding housing starts and future commercial development,” Huntley warned. “The city has a weak tax base and cannot count on a roaring state or national economy to translate to dollar-to-dollar increases for its local revenues.”

The additional revenues will allow the city to not only maintain service levels, but add new positions to better support the residents of Farmersville and the existing structural needs of the city. The city is proposing to add a human resources (HR) manager position to city hall, a second, full-time technical services clerk to the police department and another police officer position to help cover vacation and sick leaves until the department returns to normal staffing levels. Gomez said the technical services clerk is a non-sworn position in the department that works the front counter. The HR manager is needed to handle personnel issues as the city continues to grow its staffing levels. The one department that is still deficient in staffing is the public works department. Gomez said these positions are some of the most expensive due to certifications required by the state, so the city is using a lot of temporary employees and services to fill the gaps.

“As much work as they have to do throughout the city, they can easily use more full-time employees,” Gomez said. “Ideally, over the next few years, I’m hoping that our revenue will continue to increase to where we can start adding more full-time employees to that department.”

The HR position is part of the budget’s tripling administration costs. The total admin budget for 2021-22 is $328,300 up from $110,100 in the 2020-21 budget. The city council approved stipends for city council members and planning commissioners at its March 8 meeting. Under ordinance 507, council members can receive up to $300 per month and planning commissioners $50 per month. The total cost of the change is $27,000 per year.

Other administration costs included contracting with Townsend Public Affairs to be a lobbyist for the city in Sacramento as well as identify grant opportunities, such as the myriad of grants the city obtained to build the Farmersville Sports Park complex over five phases in the last five years.

The fire department saw the second largest increase of 27%. Without a full-time chief and the dissolution of the volunteer ranks, the city is investing in a subscription to Lexipol, which will automatically update department policies to current industry standards and state law, spending more money on equipment that used to be raised by volunteers, and are looking at virtual training resources to keep volunteer firefighters up to date with the expense of travel. The department will also need to purchase six sets of turnouts and four breathing units worn by firefighters to prevent smoke inhalation. The city has also set aside money to hire a consultant to develop a strategic plan for the department.

The $25 million draft budget is 13% lower than last year due to changes in major capital projects, most of which are not paid for out of the general fund. The city’s actual operating budget is a fraction of a percent higher than last year. The biggest change is the completion of the waste water treatment plant, the largest project in the city’s history at $23 million.

“The wastewater treatment plant was a full-time project that is wrapping up,” Gomez said.

Now the city begins the task of paying back the loans used to construct the facility. Annual cost for debt service is $207,560 to USDA and $484,930 to state revolving fund for a total of $692,489.73 annually. The USDA loan will be paid back over 30 years and the SRF over 40 years. The city expects to end the next year with a $301,762 surplus in the sewer fund but the fund will not have enough money to cover those repayments in the future.

“The WWTP debt coverage ratio must be maintained for both loans. The fund has some cash balance to support these payments but it will not last and evaluation of operations, rates, and revenues must be done.”

State laws prohibiting cities from shutting off utility service during the pandemic and beyond has left Farmersville $200,000 behind between its water, sewer and trash funds. The city expects to offset $60,000 of the $200,000 deficit with a Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) for COVID relief expected sometime in the next year but were awarded $82,268 overall.

Nearly half of the city’s plan to spend $37 million in capital improvement projects over the next five years will be spent in FY 2021-22. The city is planning to spend $15.7 million on projects this coming year. The city has already secured $10.3 million in funding from Measure R, the countywide half-cent sales tax for road projects, to widen and improve Farmersville Boulevard from Walnut to the roundabouts to create an entrance into town. The project will likely take at least a year to complete.

“That will be the big one this year,” Gomez said.

The city is also working to finish phase III of the sports park, beginning phases IV and V of the Sequoia Gateway Park project and begin designing a skate park proposed for the remaining unfinished area of the park. Other projects include a $250,000 plan to improve alleyways, $2 million in street repair projects and purchasing a new fire engine.

The final budget will be presented to the city council at its June 14 meeting for approval.

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