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One year later, Apple Valley looks back at Measure O

The proposed one-cent sales tax was to have raised money to increase law enforcement in the High Desert town, but it was soundly defeated. Still planning their next move, Apple Valley officials have been able to keep some of the services they feared having to cut.

 

One year ago, Apple Valley was scrambling for money.

Today, it still is, mostly because voters rejected Measure O, a one-cent sales tax that would have raised between $6 million and $7 million in revenue a year, according to town estimates.

Had Measure O passed, the money would have been spent on a variety of community services, chief among them beefing up the town’s law enforcement contract with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

But Apple Valley voters said no, and they did so overwhelmingly: 66 percent voted against the initiative, while only 34 percent said yes, despite the fact that Measure O would have cost the typical Apple Valley family only $35 to $50 a year.

“The question before the community was whether or not it would support an increase in the local sales tax rate to raise additional revenues needed for rising costs of police, parks, and other town services,” said Town Manager Doug Robertson in a statement released Nov. 6, three days after election day.

“The response was a resounding no.”

One year later, Apple Valley officials – who expected Measure O to pass – are still trying to figure out what went wrong.

“It was a  big surprise, and the fact that it didn’t [pass] is still an issue,” Councilman Scott Nassif said last week. “It means we can’t hire more police officers, which is what we most need to do. But there’s a whole laundry list of things we need to get done that we’ve had to push aside.”

On the same day Measure, O was defeated, Apple Valley’s neighbor to the west, Victorville, passed Measure P, a virtual carbon copy of Measure O: a one-cent general use sales tax,  revenue from which goes into Victorville’s general fund.

Measure P went into effect in April, and it’s already producing results: last month, Victorville added five sheriff’s deputies and a crime analyst, according to a statement on the city’s website.

Also this fiscal year,  Victorville opened Fire Station 315, doubled its code enforcement staff, established an interim homeless shelter at Westwinds Sports Center, added a children’s librarian, library aide, and self-service library kiosks, and renovated several recreation centers.

Measure P is expected to generate nearly $19 million for Victorville during the fiscal year, according to the statement.

All of that is causing bewilderment, and a little envy, in Apple Valley.

“It didn’t pass by much, but it passed,” Nassif said of Measure P,  which received 50.2 percent of the vote. “That’s a little baffling. I don’t really understand it.”

Several factors might have doomed Measure O, including so much media focus on the Trump-Biden presidential race that people weren’t as focused on local issues and campaigns as they usually are.

“We’re aren’t allowed to promote something like Measure O,” Nassif said. “All we can do is explain it. If we go too far we risk violating the (Fair Political Practices Commission).”

But the biggest damage to Measure O might have been done by the town council race, in which incumbents Art Bishop and Larry Cusack ran unopposed.

“In a campaign, ideas are discussed, issues are debated, but last year that didn’t happen,” Nassif said. “There really was no campaign, and I think that hurt Measure O.”

Because Measure O [and Measure P] were general taxes, they required only a majority of the votes to pass. A tax for a specific purpose – more law enforcement, or money for infrastructure upgrades, for example – requires two-thirds of the vote.

Despite needing more votes, a tax that stated upfront that it was meant to pay for more law enforcement might have won, according to Nassif

“Apple Valley is a conservative town, and people don’t like spending from reserve funds,’ Nassif said. “And, if there’s a tax, they want to know exactly how the money is going to be spent. Maybe we didn’t sell it strong enough.”

Cities usually prefer to raise their sales tax because some sales tax revenue is generated by visitors, while a general tax is paid for exclusively by a city or town’s residents, Nassif said.

Immediately after Measure O was defeated, Apple Valley officials formed a blue-ribbon committee that recommended cutting $4.5 million from the town’s budget. Town officials then considered closing the 18-hole Apple Valley Golf Club, the Civic Center Park Aquatic Center, and discontinuing the parks and recreation department’s distance-learning day camp.

But none of that happened. Cuts to Apple Valley’s 2020-2021 fiscal year budget were held to about $1.5 million, partly by “reorganizing some things,” and because of an unexpected property tax windfall, Nassif said.

The golf course, at 15200 Rancherias Road also stayed open because keeping it in business was cheaper than shutting it down.

“If it’s closed you still have to maintain it, even though it’s not generating any revenue,” Nassif said. “There are houses near the golf course, and if the golf course isn’t maintained at some level, the value of those properties would drop. So we kept it open.”

Apple Valley said no to Measure O, but voters might change their mind once they figure out that their town really does need more sheriff’s deputies, said Pat Orr, a retired businessman and member of the High Desert Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

“Apple Valley is a conservative town, and it’s pro-police,” said Orr, an Apple Valley resident for 32 years. “You aren’t going to see a lot of ‘defund the police’ signs in Apple Valley. So this issue isn’t going away.”

The town council might hire a political consultant to help it determine its next move, in which case it will likely receive one of two recommendations, according to Orr.

“There are two schools of thought on getting a tax as a Measure O passed,” Orr said. “Try during a presidential year, when voter turnout is higher, or try during an off-year, when there is less noise to cut through and people who really care about the issue are more likely to vote. I think you can win either way if you have the right issue.”

 

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