The lion's share of property taxes paid by Hesperians leaves the city, spread out among a variety of state and local agencies and funds. But the city gets a smaller percentage of residents' property taxes back than any other incorporated community in the High Desert — though the straight figures can be misleading.
The city gets back 1.59 percent of property taxes paid in Hesperia. In comparison, Adelanto gets 1.75 percent, Apple Valley gets 9.44 percent, Barstow gets 9.04 percent and Victorville gets back 16.04 percent. Countywide, cities and towns get 14 percent of their property tax revenue back.
"I'd like to see some parity with the cities in the surrounding area," Councilman Bill Holland said. "We're not asking for something we're not entitled to."
But Hesperia's not as bad off as it might appear at first. Its Victor Valley neighbors don't split property tax revenue with both a local fire district and park district, which Hesperia does.
The Hesperia Fire District gets 15.35 percent of residents' property tax and the Hesperia Recreation and Park District gets 4.32 percent. Combining the revenue collected by the city, fire district and park district means Hesperians are seeing 21.26 of their property tax coming back to them, compared to a county average of 20.69 percent when all three agencies' revenues are combined and a rate of 37.42 percent for combined revenue in Barstow.
Victorville's 16.04 percent supports both its fire services and its parks department, along with general city expenses. Apple Valley's 9.44 covers the town and its parks services, though it has its own fire district.
The revenues not directed to a special agency go into incorporated communities' general funds, allowing them to spend it on anything from roads to salaries to special projects. The rate was set by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission when Hesperia was incorporated in 1988, based on what the county spent on Hesperia for services the newly formed city would be assuming responsibility for.
But not everyone agrees with what LAFCO decides: Highland, Yucaipa and Chino Hills have sued to get more property tax revenue back. A 1992 state senate bill set gave communities a time limit in which to appeal their property tax allocation rates: three years after incorporation for communities incorporated after Jan. 1, 1986. Hesperia had not filed requesting recalculation by July 1, 1991, the three-year anniversary of the city being incorporated.
"I don't know that those supposed (deadlines) should apply," Holland said. "Why wouldn't we take a look at why we're not being treated as fairly as Apple (Valley) or (Victorville)?"
Two attempts were made in the Assembly to change Hesperia's property tax allocation to a higher rate — 14.16 percent in the first bill, 10 percent in the second — but both failed to pass.
"I don't disagree that we should get a larger share of the property tax," Mayor Russ Blewett said.
Part of the justification for Hesperia's initial cut was due to Hesperia having a redevelopment agency, which brought additional state revenue to the community.
"Now, we don't have a development agency," Councilman Paul Bosacki said. Gov. Jerry Brown shut down the redevelopment agency program across the state earlier this year, arguing that it would save money for the state and, in the long run, mean more money coming to local coffers.
In 2006, the County of San Bernardino threw communities like Hesperia a bone: The Revenue Enhancement Zone program lets cities and towns collect 7 percent of the property tax revenue for 20-acre-plus previously undeveloped properties in newly annexed areas. The City Council agreed to the deal in May 2007, just as the housing construction bubble was popping. As of April 2012, the Revenue Enhancement Zone program has generated no additional revenue for the city.
"The need for those tax dollars is now," Bosacki said. "It's not a future problem to be solved by future development."
But with a hotly contested race for the San Bernardino County 1st District supervisor's seat — for which Blewett is a candidate — Bosacki and Holland believe now might be the time to garner support for a new deal for the city.
"It's an opportunity for somebody to do the right thing for the city," Bosacki said.
"The only people who win in lawsuits are lawyers," Holland said. "If you want my support for your run for the 1st District or the Assembly, champion this cause."
He hopes the City Council can "build a coalition, not by brow-beating and name-calling, but simply by explaining things and saying 'look, this isn't right.' We're not asking for more, we're asking for the same."
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.