On Aug. 20, the Daily Press published a Valley Voices piece that I wrote entitled: “Do we need another tax — can we afford another tax?” In the column I indicated …“Elected officials should consider raising taxes or creating a new tax as a LAST resort, not a first resort and they should clearly demonstrate what steps have been taken to address the issue BEFORE they seek a new tax or increases…”
Since August I have educated myself further and discovered that the Victorville City Council HAS taken several, significant steps to reduce general fund costs in order to fund necessary police and fire coverage that residents and businesses deserve. But the reductions aren’t enough. Through no fault of the city’s, the escalating costs for public safety — experienced by every municipality countywide that contracts for police and fire services — are a result of contract increases with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s and Fire Departments.
Victorville’s contract with the Sheriff’s Department alone increased by $2 million for the current fiscal year, including the cost of three additional deputies, and is expected to rise more than $1.5 million next fiscal year.
The only alternatives to absorb the increases are to refuse to pay the increased costs, reduce staffing or take on the monumental costs of creating our own police and fire departments. With rising crime rates and a growing population, Victorville’s need for public safety is greater than ever before. Yet, the costs for fire and police service are outpacing our ability to pay for them.
Because the passage or failure of Measure K — Special Public Safety Transactions and Use Tax — will result in a tax (sales tax or parcel tax), the question becomes should property owners only subsidize the increase costs for public safety, or should the burden be shared by everyone who benefits from police and fire services?
Measure K will ensure a revenue stream for years to come to ensure that funds are adequate to not only cover public safety costs, but also to:
‒ Hire 10 additional police officers;
‒ Hire 15 firefighters/paramedics;
‒ Open Fire Station 315 near Sunset Ridge Park, and
‒ Add a second paramedic squad to respond to increasing calls for medical aid.
I’m not a fan of new or tax increases, but now that voters are given the choice between a half-cent sales tax — which equals only 50 cents per every $100 of purchases (necessities such as groceries and medications would not be taxed) — or a $153 parcel tax, I am supporting the increase in sales tax as the fairest way to maintain an adequate level of public safety services, and in fact, bring an enhanced level of services with the proposed additional hires.
Please, don’t believe the rhetoric and scare tactics by the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association. And speaking of that group — supposedly heavily funded by San Bernardino County Firefighters Union — why would firefighters oppose a sales tax measure that is REQUIRED to increase staffing for fire services? Because failure of Measure K will likely result in the city having to annex to County Fire Protection District and ultimately give complete control of fire services to County Fire, not the City Council — including decisions on how to allocate staffing and resources.
Let’s keep local control for decisions about police and fire services. Let’s vote to enhance public safety in Victorville.
Michael Stevens is a Victorville resident and former candidate for City Council.