Despite declining revenue, the Hesperia City Council wants more firefighters and more deputy sheriffs on the streets and will consider raising taxes to do it.
Three possible new taxes were discussed at Tuesday's mid-year budget review at Hesperia City Hall along with the Public Safety Advisory Committee's picks as the city's top three needs for Fiscal Year 2010-2011 for both police and fire protection.
"With the rate that our population is expected to increase, when are we ever going to be able to get ahead to offer the other kinds of things we'd like to?" assistant city manager Kim Summers said Thursday. (See the related story Friday on HesperiaStar.com for what steps the city is taking to tighten its belt during the current economic downturn.)
Foremost among those needs is increasing the number of San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputies stationed in Hesperia, with a goal of having .75 officers per 1,000 residents. (There are currently 57 sworn officers for the city's 87,820 residents, for a ratio of .65 officers per 1,000 residents.) To get there would require hiring another nine full-time officers, at a cost of $1.15 million.
An eight-officer "problem-oriented police" task force focusing on the city's most pressing policing needs at any given time, such as gangs, drugs or graffiti, would cost just over $1 million.
And the growth of retail along the Interstate 15 corridor and Main Street will bring not only revenue and jobs to the city, but crime.
"In Victorville, there's almost an officer dedicated to responding to crime at the [Mall of the Victor Valley]," Summers said. "As we start getting more and more retail, we're going to have a need for someone dedicated to do this."
Four officers would make up a retail enforcement team at a cost of half a million dollars.
Similar options are on the Public Safety Advisory Committee's wish list for the San Bernardino County Fire Department's staffing in the city:
Replacing the one non-paramedic firefighter at each station during each shift with a full firefighter/paramedic would cost $1.3 million.
Adding a second ambulance (and the two staff members that go along with it) at each station would cost the city $3.7 million.
And increasing overall staff level on each fire engine to four firefighters, including a captain and engineer, would cost $1.8 million.
Potential new taxes
Even assuming the city council eventually approves all six of the above service improvements, which would cost a combined $9.7 million, the voters will have to agree to raising new taxes at the ballot box.
The city council would decide on a split of the new revenue between fire and police, according to Summers. That helps prevent some potential waste, because although police service is paid for out of the city's general fund (which can be spent on anything), fire service is paid for out of the city's fire district fund, which can be spent on nothing but fire service, by law.
Among the taxes the Hesperia City Council will consider are a utility tax, a parcel tax and a sales tax.
Forty percent of California cities already impose a utility tax, averaging at 5.5 percent. A 4 percent tax, which would raise an estimated $3 million annually, would cost users an estimated $150 per year. A majority of voters would have to approve such a tax during a general election, the next of which will be held in November 2010.
A parcel tax has only worked once in the city's history, and voters voted the tax down in 2001 and again in 2002. A tax of $125 per parcel per year would generate $3 million annually for the city. Two-thirds of voters would have to approve a parcel tax, but the question could be put to voters in a special election later this year, instead of the city waiting until 2010.
Hesperia residents currently pay 7.75 percent sales tax to the County of San Bernardino, which returns 1 cent of every dollar collected back to the city. A new city tax on everything but food and medicine of half a cent would raise an estimated $3 million annually and cost residents an estimated $156 more annually.
Of course, the city council could decide against all of the spending options and any of the new taxes.
"This is something we're just exploring," Summers said. "This could be something the council looks at and says 'let's revisit this in four years.' ... It might turn out to be something not appropriate for this community."
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.