Hesperians may get their chance to vote on a proposed parcel tax to help pay for firefighting service as soon as November.


At Tuesday's meeting of the Hesperia City Council, the council chose to not cut nine firefighters from them, which had been the recommendation from staff to balance the city's fire district budget.


Instead, "they directed staff to bring back information about putting a parcel tax on the ballot," Assistant to the City Manager Kim Summers said Thursday. "So at the next city council meeting, July 5, we will come back with the information. 'Here's the process, here's what it would cost, here's how it would be done.'"


The council will have to move fast to formally approve putting the issue on the ballot and approving proposed ballot language: There is an Aug. 12 deadline to put the issue on the November ballot. (Otherwise, the city would have to pay more out of a tight budget to ask the voters: The costs for running polling stations and printing up ballots are split between all the entities involved in an election, and a special election or the April 2012 election likely would have far fewer participants than even an off-year Nov. election.)


The parcel tax would charge Hesperia property owners an as-yet-undecided amount to close budget gap for the city's fire district, which has seen its primary revenue source, property taxes, plunge during the housing market's collapse and subsequent recession.


The city's financial team will be working out a tax proposal "that would not only bridge the [budget] gap but continue to bridge it if it were, say, a five-year tax," said Summers.


Last year, the council chose to deplete the fire district's reserves to pay salaries. Normally, city officials prefer to use the reserves for one-time emergency expenses, not ongoing ones like salaries and benefits, which make up most of the fire district's costs.


Even with the proposed cuts, this year's general fund budget -- which was approved Tuesday -- included a $1.9 million gift from the city's general fund to balance the fire district budget and rebuild its reserves.


Historically, Hesperians have been loath to approve new taxes, voting down two in 2001 and 2002, but it did happen once, in the early 1990s, and later expired in 2003.


"It kind of comes down to, to 'how much are Hesperians willing to pay to keep their fire service the same as it is today?' Responsible government: We're all trying to live within our means, and there's just not a lot of options with the fire district."


Supporters will need to work hard to get the tax approved: Specific-purpose taxes are harder to pass than ones where legislators can spend the money freely, and require a 66 percent approval from voters, rather than 50 percent plus one vote.


If the tax proposal goes down the way most of its predecessors have, it'll be back to the drawing board for the Hesperia City Council.


"They would either have to go forward with a plan to reduce service levels," said Summers, "or they would have to subsidize the fire district with the general fund."


The next regular meeting of the Hesperia City Council will take place on July 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Hesperia City Hall, 9700 Seventh Avenue.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.