The city of Hesperia is going to the people, literally, with a proposed new sales tax.
Officials will have conducted a dozen public meetings on the issue before the summer ends, and have already spoken to the Kiwanis and the Hesperia Chamber of Commerce.
In August, the Hesperia City Council will decide whether to put the tax on November's ballot.
The proposed half-cent sales tax would be spent on paving and maintaining city roads, as well as fire and police service, City Manager Mike Podegracz told those in attendance at Wednesday's public meeting, held in council chambers at Hesperia City Hall.
"We're not looking at enhancements," Podegracz said. "We're looking at maintaining" current levels of fire and police service.
The proposal comes out of a survey given to residents earlier this year. One question in particular asked what residents thought the city should be spending more time and money on.
"Number one, by far, were roads," said Podegracz. "The second [one] was interesting: it was 'not sure.' We took that to say we're doing a pretty good job."
The survey said 80 percent of residents surveyed thought city officials were doing a good job, up from a 28 percent satisfaction level on a 2001 survey.
Number three was public safety.
Faced with declining property tax revenue, the city has slashed costs, including eliminating 11 positions in this year's budget and an across-the-board 5 percent salary and wage cut.
But now the cuts are beyond fat and into muscle and bone.
There is no money budgeted for residential road improvements in the next year, said Director of Management Services Brian Johnson.
"Basically, you can get lots of grants for arterials and interchanges, but one of the things you can't get grant money for is residential roads, and that's been one of our big frustrations," he said.
The city's emergency services are now running a deficit: Last year's budget was balanced when it was approved, but revenue declined even more steeply than predicted, and the city had to dip into its reserves to pay the bills.
"For the first time in the city's history, we're now providing a $1 million dollar subsidy to the city's fire district," said Johnson. A million dollar cut "would have radically reduced fire service and emergency medical aid."
In the past 10 years, the number of sworn officers operating out of Hesperia's sheriff's station has risen 50 percent, and the city has also added to the number of firefighters on duty.
"We have 17 [firefighters] on, 24/7," said Johnson. "We have, hands down, the best [fire department] coverage and best response time in the High Desert."
The city is proposing a five-year half-cent sales tax, which would go into effect in July 2011, just as a one-cent state sales tax goes away.
"The people who impact our services are not just residents, they're [also] commuters" as well as residents of Oak Hills, Phelan and Pinion Hills, said Podegracz.
He believes the tax would generate an additional $3.1 million in revenue for the city.
Even if the city council approves putting the tax on the November ballot, the decision is ultimately up to the voters. But without more revenue from some source, Podegracz said, city services will begin to be impacted.
"Except for police, fire and roads, we've cut pretty much what we can," he said. "The next place to look is public safety."
"We don't have a lot of other places to go," said Johnson.
The next public meeting to discuss the proposed bond will take place Monday, June 21, at 6 p.m. in the community room at the Hesperia library. For more information, call 760-947-1020.
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star