Town Council vote puts 1% sales tax increase on ballot in Apple Valley (July 29, 2020)

Apple Valley residents will be asked in November whether to approve a local sales tax increase that town officials say will help fix an anticipated $3.5 million budget deficit and potentially enhance public safety.

The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to place the tax measure on the ballot. If approved by a majority, it would raise sales tax from 7.75% to 8.75% and bolster Apple Valley’s general fund by an estimated $7 million.

As a general tax measure, the revenues could be used to increase public safety, as well as enhance community services and address public infrastructure needs, while building reserves to respond to any future crises or temporary revenue impacts, town staff said.

With the vote, Apple Valley joined at least two other Victor Valley municipalities — Adelanto and Victorville — that will also have proposed tax measures on the November ballot amid the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak and rising costs for contracts with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

If the sales tax is not approved by the voters … I don’t believe that one, two three years from now this town could survive with the contract going up, Town Manager Doug Robertson said.

Last year, the county Board of Supervisors approved a new labor contract with the sheriff’s union. The contract gave 3% annual wage increases for five years to all employees beginning in August 2019 and an additional 1% increase to those trained in law enforcement for four years starting in January 2021.

As a result, Apple Valley’s contract in 2020 jumped $1.5 million from the previous year, according to Town officials.

In a report, staff members predicted the contract would increase annually by 6% for the next four years and cause an insurmountable budget shortfall without drastic cuts to other programs and services.

Some residents questioned how the money would be spent if the measure is approved.

As the single largest expenditure from our general fund already, a 25% increase over the next five years of that expenditure smells of unsustainability, even in the best of times, wrote Lance Christiansen. As the crime rate has gone down in most cities due to stay-at-home orders, it appears that this increase is based on want rather than ‘need.’

According to budget data, the town is projected to spend about $16.3 million for Sheriff’s Department services in Fiscal Year 2020-21, which amounts to 45% of the general fund budget. Of that total, $15.5 million represents the contract that covers personnel costs and vehicles.

Other costs not associated with the contract include overtime, gasoline, oil and vehicle maintenance.

A 2019 annual report from the Sheriff’s Department shows that both property and violent crimes in Apple Valley have decreased by 37% since 2015.

History has shown that tax increases do not go away, even as prosperous times return, Christiansen added. Does Apple Valley really want to be known from here on, as the one town of the big three where you never want to buy a big-ticket item, unless you enjoy spending more on that item than you would in Victorville or Hesperia?

Another resident, Anthony Mejia, wrote in public comment that he and other families would support the tax if they knew exactly what they were getting for their money.

Apple Valley needs more focus on youth activities and family amenities, he said.

Robertson said that even without the outbreak, the town was still looking at tough decisions, including cuts to departments, such as parks and recreation, without a reliable revenue source.

Without COVID, I think we would have been able to get through the current fiscal year pretty well, but we likely would have needed the sales tax increase to keep services at their same level in next fiscal year, he said.

According to Robertson, FY 2019-20 saw a revenue shortfall of $1.27 million due to the pandemic, an amount that’s expected to increase to about $3.5 million in deficit spending in FY 2020-21 without additional funding.

General fund reserves used to balance the current fiscal year’s budget were predicted to run out as well, he said.

Before the unanimous vote, Council member Larry Cusack said it was just time to place the measure on the ballot to allow voters to decide.

There’s no more money in our coffers without going into deficit spending and we just can’t do that, he said. Putting this on the ballot let’s the people of Apple Valley let us know if they want to keep the way of life in Apple Valley the same as it is, or if they want to decrease services that we’ve been able to supply.

Source: Martin Estacio, Daily Press