Farmersville fire chief may get budget axe as grant funding expires

City’s 2019-20 budget does not include funding for Fire Chief John Crivello and it is unlikely it will be award a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) for a third time

By Crystal Havner @TheSunGazette

FARMERSVILLE – The City of Farmersville spent the first 54 years of its history without a fire chief and it may have to do so again.

At its June 10 meeting, the Farmersville City Council got its first look at the city’s 2019-20 budget. Noticeably absent from the Fire Department’s budget – which included a code enforcement officer, and three fire officers – was a personnel position for a fire chief.

In his budget report, Finance Director Steven Huntley said the fire chief and one of the fire officer positions were funded through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant through FEMA, which expires this month. That leaves a $250,000 hole to fill in the fire department’s 2019-20 budget, which represents about 12% of the city’s general fund. Huntley did note that Measure P, the city’s half cent sales tax measure passed in 2017, which should cover the cost of continuing funding the third fire officer position.

More than a dozen members of the volunteer and staff fire fighters for the city showed up in support of Fire Chief John Crivello and the need for his position.

“Fire Chief Crivello is fair and humble,” one firefighter siad. “Right now, we have a combined 120 years of experience on the staff. If you follow through with the current restructuring plan we will drop to 67 years. That’s less knowledge protecting the residents.”

The Farmersville Fire Department responds to more than 1,200 calls for service each year and provides fire protection to approximately 11,000 people within the 2.3 square mile city limits. The department currently consists of with six full-time firefighters, two per shift, plus a fire chief. The budget acknowledges additional firefighters will be needed as the city’s population grows.

Ron Parish, this year’s Memorial Day Parade grand marshal, has 50 years of experience with the Farmersville Fire Department and said it is currently providing the best level of fire protection.

“The staffing now is better than it ever has been before,” he said. “Every department needs a leader. You need a public works director, city manager, mayor and so on. The fire department needs a chief. I am speaking from the heart when I say that this city is being covered better than it ever has before. If you follow through with this plan, the city will go back 30 years [in terms of its fire protection].”

Council member Paul Boyer asked if money could be found in the city reserves to make up the $210,000 it would take to keep the department the same.

“Everything is not always about dollars,” Boyer said. “There is the knowledge and training that goes along with these positions.”

Mayor Greg Gomez said, “Borrowing money that we should be setting aside is not wise, but there are exceptions and keeping our residents safe is one of those. That being said we need more businesses to come to this city and we should be doing our shopping here so the taxes stay here.”

The council met in closed session and came up with a plan to make the fire chief position a volunteer position that would be paid with a stipend. Farmersville has known since early 2017 that they were unlikely to receive a third round of the three-year SAFER grant funding. The grant has funded a chief and lieutenant position since 2014. The grant provided the City with $185,000 in 2016 and $144,000 in 2017.

City manager Jennifer Gomez said the City would be talking with Crivello and try to come up with something that works for everyone.

“We really want what is best for the residents that works within the budget,” she said.

Crivello was hired in February 2014 as Farmersville’s first full-time fire chief in the City’s history. Since incorporating as a city in 1960, Farmersville’s police chief has served as both the fire and police chief. Crivello’s swearing in came just a few days after he stepped down as a division chief with the Tulare County Fire Department but he unofficially served as the city’s fire chief for the seven years prior.

The council also approved lowering the watering restrictions from stage 4 to stage 3.

Public works director Jeff Dowlen recommended the change.

“The biggest change is that residents will be allowed to water their yards three times a week instead of two and there are more hours for watering,” he said.

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