Woodlake, Farmersville voters approve sales tax increases and new cannabis tax at ballot box last Tuesday
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
WOODLAKE, FARMERSVILLE – Last Tuesday, Nov. 7 voters were faced with two major decisions in Woodlake and Farmersville: whether to tax cannabis businesses and whether to increase their city’s sales tax. According to Tuesday’s vote count and Friday’s update, citizens were ready to see some change. As of Friday, 268 Woodlake voters passed their one-percent sales tax increase as opposed to 156, and 289 voted to tax cannabis businesses as opposed to 133.
Results were similar in Farmersville. As of Friday 217 Farmersville voters elected to increase their sales tax by ½ percent as opposed to 133 voters, and 232 voters elected to tax cannabis as opposed to 116. The numbers may change as additional ballots are counted throughout the month.
Before the election last week Woodlake sales tax was amongst the lowest in the county at 7.75%. The additional one-percent increase will bring the city to the highest sales tax rate in the county at 8.75% along with Lindsay, Dinuba and now Farmersville. According to city staff, the additional percent is projected to bring $400,000 of additional revenue into the city’s general fund.
City administrator Ramon Lara said during a council meeting in April that additional revenue through a sales tax increase would be allocated toward several departments and services. Public safety would benefit from additional officers and preventative programs. Recreational programs would benefit from additional infrastructure, youth sports and adult programs. Parks and equipment would benefit from additional tables, barbecues, lights and playground equipment. Streets and roads would see additional street repairs, pedestrian walkways and parking lots. Lights and landscaping would benefit from more murals, benches and lights throughout the city.
Woodlake director of community services says that the approval of the tax is a show of confidence in the city’s administration.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve been really successful in bringing projects to Woodlake and I think people are buying into what we’re selling,” Waters said. “I don’t think [the sales tax] passes if we weren’t able to show what we’ve been able to do [taxpayer] money and show that we’ve done a good job.”
To be fair Woodlake’s sales tax was not the cause of much consternation between the two ballot measures. It was clear to voters that the City was in need of additional general fund revenue. Cannabis on the other hand was a much more difficult measure to sell.
A large group of residents turned out to the Woodlake council chambers this summer when the Council voted in favor of ordinance 610 which repeals medical marijuana and mobile marijuana dispensaries, while setting up new guidelines for conditional uses for cannabis businesses. Even further the ordinance allows for commercial cultivation and sales with an up to 10% sales tax added on to the City’s already existing sales tax. And the guidelines in the ordinance are rather restrictive.
By approving the cannabis tax last Tuesday voters allowed the City to impose a tax of up to 10% for dispensaries and then $25 per square foot for the first 3,000 square feet and then $10 per square foot for each additional square foot after that. But that does not mean that businesses are moving in tomorrow.
Businesses cannot start applying for licenses until the first of January and even then they are looking at a long road of documents before they can be approved.
“If they came in today, they would be looking at months before they could open up,” said Waters.
Farmersville’s ½-percent sales tax increase should increase revenues by $300,000 according to projections and puts the City at 8.75%. The aim is to hopefully balance the City’s general fund which came up $68,000 short of projected expenses in 2017-2018 fiscal year. It could have been more but freezes to employee salaries and the concessions made by former city manager John Jansons helped to cut the deficit to what it is now. According to councilman Greg Gomez residents were understanding of the City’s position and understood the need for the sales tax.
“For me the community has a sense that we’re going in the right direction,” said Gomez. “When we were door knocking we kind of explained it to them…there wasn’t anything like they thought [the City wasn’t] spending their money right.”
Gomez went on to say that the City is benefiting from the skill of their finance director Steve Huntley. The City is not embroiled in controversy or faced with dysfunction and everyone is willing to help out, Gomez said.
At 8.75% Farmersville joins the ranks of Lindsay, Woodlake, and Dinuba as the highest sales tax rates in the county.
“I really want to thank the voters out there and this is going to put us on the good financial track…all of this money, it isn’t going to the State, it isn’t leaving town. It is staying right here in town,” Gomez said.
The Farmersville City Council gave residents few opportunities to whip up support or opposition when it came to cannabis. Since the voters have elected to allow the City to tax commercial cannabis cultivation at $25 per square foot of space used at up to 10% for every purchase, the Council took up their second reading and approval of ordinance 485 on Monday which passed 3-1 with vice mayor Matt Sisk absent.
The ordinance imposes reasonable health and safety regulation and restrictions on all consumption of non-medicinal and medicinal cannabis products, cultivation of cannabis by individuals and businesses, storage of cannabis products and related land uses. As well the ordinance includes a ban on all retail transactions on cannabis and cannabis products and a ban on all outdoor cultivation of cannabis.
Gomez said that the zoning will likely be industrial and they are only allowing commercial cultivation to be outdoors; which is largely to avoid safety concerns and vandalism.
Gomez said that they were able to gather support for the cannabis tax by alleviating some voters’ worries that it would be an additional tax on them. He told voters that it would only impact whole sales or business-to-business sales.