Election Day will mean a tax hike for Hesperia landowners or some form of reduced fire service, as voters make their opinions known on Measure F.


In July, the Hesperia City Council voted to put the possibility of an $85 per parcel tax on the Nov. 8 ballot. The move was in reaction to the prospect of another year of deficit spending on the Hesperia Fire District, which pays for the city's contract with the San Bernardino County Fire Department.


The Hesperia Fire District is technically a separate entity than the city and is primarily funded by 15 cents of every dollar residents pay in property taxes. With plummeting property tax revenue following the collapse of the residential housing market, the district has seen its revenues dwindle as well.


"The last couple of years, the city has been funding us out of their general fund, but they can't continue to do that, or the city will end up in a deficit," said firefighter Jason McLaughlin.


"It's a terrible time to raise taxes for any reason," said Russ Blewett, one of two members of the Hesperia City Council to vote against putting Measure F on the ballot. "I wouldn't go for this tax if it were one cent a day. Everybody in this community has taken a hit because of this economy. The fire guys are the only guys who have not taken a hit, so far. ... They're not immune nobody's immune in this economy."


The city estimates there are about 30,000 parcels of land that would be subject to the tax, given the high number of government-owned parcels, which are exempt, according to city spokeswoman Kelly Malloy.


Measure F would generate about $2.55 million in revenue the first year, creating a surplus of $900,000. That extra money would go to replenish the fire district's reserves, which are supposed to be maintained at 9 percent of annual revenue, according to council policy. The first year revenue wouldn't refill it to 9 percent, but it would refill in the second and subsequent years.


If approved, the Measure F tax would expire, or "sunset," in five years.


"I'm also a Hesperia resident. I don't want to pay any more taxes, either, but the revenue has to be made up," said Bret Henry, a captain with San Bernardino County Fire Department. "We believe 24 cents a day is a good deal."


As a special tax, the revenue can only be spent on the purpose it's collected for in this case, the Hesperia Fire District. Counter-intuitively, this more restricted form of tax is harder to approve than a general tax, and requires the approval of two-thirds of voters.


"What do I think the odds are? Not very good," said Councilman Paul Bosacki, who voted against putting Measure F on the ballot. "People in Hesperia don't have money laying around to be throwing toward an addition onto their property tax for no increase in service. I really don't see it having much of a chance to pass."


Should Measure F fail, Hesperia City Manager Mike Podegracz has been authorized by the same vote that put the measure on the ballot to negotiate with the fire department to reduce service by the equivalent of nine firefighters. Whether that means closing a firehouse or reducing the number of firefighters working each shift is yet to be determined.


"I think the people of Hesperia are very pragmatic, very logical. We've had a great reception when we visit peoples' homes," Henry said. "Firefighters have been put between a rock and a hard place with this, to some degree."


"This is the time to get out and vote," Bosacki said. "It may come down to individual votes on Tuesday."


Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.