Farmersville considers using cannabis tax to fund fire battalion chief

The uncertain nature of the tax has some city officials concerned about the plan’s sustainability

FARMERSVILLE – Farmersville is considering adding a full-time battalion chief to their fire department, but some city officials are skeptical of the plan’s financial feasibility.

The fire department’s current battalion chief is working on a $12,000 stipend and only provides coverage during major incidents and when the volunteer chief is absent. Converting the stipend battalion chief to a full-time position would be the fourth of three current full-time roles, which include one fire captain and two fire lieutenants. The rest of the department is made up of volunteers. 

The city lost their last full-time battalion chief position after the conclusion of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant in 2019. Because some of the funding needed to restore the position would likely need to be taken from the city’s Measure Q cannabis sales tax, some city officials are concerned with the sustainability of the role. 

“I don’t want three years from now for us to let go of the position again,” said councilmember Greg Gomez at a May 23 city council meeting. He added that this might not be a sustainable way to fund the position, since Measure Q funding is expected to decline as neighboring cities like Tulare begin to open dispensaries of their own. 

City staff is recommending that the position start at an annual salary of $82,000 with a fully burdened cost of $170,000, and has identified two funding possibilities. The first would be to begin using Measure Q to fund one lieutenant’s salary, freeing up $82,000 from the general fund along with the $25,000 that would be freed by ending the volunteer battalion chief’s stipend. This would free a total of $118,000 from the general fund, requiring a budgetary increase of $36,000. The alternative would be to fund the new position entirely with money from Measure Q, reducing the general fund’s budget by $36,000. 

“It’s not an issue of the money not being there, it’s an issue of making the choice of where to spend that money,” said Chief of Police Mario Krstic at the May 23 meeting. “We’re not adding a position, we’re just trying to get back what we had previously.” 

According to Finance Director Steve Huntley, the city’s general fund is healthy, due in large part to funding from Measure Q. There is, however, a possibility of a recession in the near future, and that coupled with a weak tax base and Measure Q being in a declining trend leaves room for uncertainty. 

Formal action will be taken on the matter during upcoming city council meetings. 

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