Hesperia firefighters got a reprieve Tuesday night, when the Hesperia City Council chose to put a new property assessment on the ballot instead of cutting the nine firefighters they needed to in order to balance the budget.


Property taxes make up most of the revenue for the Hesperia Fire District, and with the drop in property values, the revenue has plummeted in recent years, leaving the fire district with a $1.09 million deficit and -- thanks to the council voting last year to use the district's reserves to cover the deficit -- no money in the bank.


At last week's budget workshop, city staff told the council they would need to cut nine firefighters to balance the budget, which works out to one firefighter per engine per shift.


"You either A) bring in more revenue or B) you cut expenses," Councilman Bill Holland told the assembled crowd, which included firefighters from around the Victor Valley and their supporters.


The council chose Option A.


Mayor Mike Leonard made a motion that the city keep fire staffing intact and put a property assessment before the voters to pay for the higher staffing level.


"My phone has rang off the hook," said Councilman Thurston "Smitty" Smith. "We have to find a way to fill that gap in the next six months."


Ironically, a new tax that can only be spent on a specific purpose is actually harder to pass than one that could be spent on anything, requiring 66 percent of the vote, rather than a simple majority.


The council approved the motion by a 3-2 margin, with Councilmen Russ Blewett and Paul Bosacki dissenting.


"I'm sorry if it offends people but I cannot vote for this," said Blewett. "I'd be surprised if the voters in this community were of a mind to put a tax on themselves, but we'll find out."


"Good luck," Bosacki said. "That's all I've got to tell you: Good luck."


"A quarter a day to keep your fire district whole," Councilman Thurston "Smitty" Smith told the audience.


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.