Noting that “I have lived in Apple Valley for almost twenty years,” Michael Karen said he feels driven to run for town council this year because he has experienced and accomplished so much in Apple Valley already and sees opportunities for further achievement. “I raised a child here, married the love of my life here, and ran a successful small business here,” he said. “I am very interested in the continued success of this town.”
He has experience with government and the decision-making process impacting the local community which he believes qualifies him to hold the position of town councilman, Karen said.
“I have been a director of the Apple Valley Fire Board since 2016,” he said. “I have also been on other committees and boards most of my adult life. I have been responsible for approving large budgets, deciding on major issues, and evaluating the fire chief’s performance.”
He can be distinguished from the others running for a position on the council, Karen said, in a number of ways. “I am a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force and served in support of Operation Desert Strike/Desert Storm,” he said. “I am energetic and passionate about the issues. I feel that doing what is right for the people of Apple Valley is more important than doing what is politically expedient.”
In sizing up the current challenges in Apple Valley, Karen said, “The largest issue facing the town now is the financial crisis brought on by the decision to take control of Liberty Utilities. The current council has taken us from a budget surplus to a deficit. I am afraid that should we continue down this path our great grandchildren will still be paying for it.”
Karen’s reference is to Liberty Utilities, an American subsidiary of Canadian-owned Algonquin Power and Utility Corporation, which in January 2016 finalized its acquisition of the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company, which since 1945 has been the major purveyor of water in Apple Valley. Liberty obtained Apple Valley Ranchos by consummating the purchase of Park Water Company, which was packaged as Western Water Holdings, from the Carlyle Group. Liberty Utilities paid $327 million for all of Western Water Holdings, which consisted of water companies serving all of Missoula, Montana, as well as Apple Valley and Yermo, and also served a portion of Bellflower, Compton, Downey in Los Angeles County. Park’s assets included 37 mostly shallow and medium-depth wells in Montana serving 69,821 residents in Missoula, 12 wells serving roughly 20,977 residents in Los Angeles County, three wells serving 1,800 residents in Yermo, and Apple Valley Ranchos Water company’s 24 deep wells throughout Apple Valley serving the town’s 73,077 residents. Apple Valley officials are intent on purchasing Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company. Liberty is not amenable to a sale, thus requiring the town to utilize an eminent domain procedure to force that sale. Given the values of the respective constituents of Western Water Holdings, the fair market price for Apple Valley Ranchos to be adjudicated by the courts under the eminent domain process is likely to exceed $100 million.
Beyond the financial burden of acquiring the water company, Karen said the town is moving toward operating in the red as a consequence of some of its other functions. “Another issue is that we are running deficit budgets with several departments in the town,” said Karen. “The golf course and the park and recreation department are a loss yearly.”
Karen said the city has shot itself in the fiscal foot in other ways. “Development in the town has been stifled by large impact fees and point of sale fees,” he said. “While these are important to protect current residents of the town, these fees also stop future building which means less jobs.”
Karen said, “I am a public safety candidate and believe that law enforcement and fire protection are essential. I will work to ensure that we have some of the best roads in the High Desert.”
To right the town’s listing financial ship, Karen said, “We should immediately halt the effort to take over the water company. We have already had to take out a ten million dollar line of credit to pay legal fees. Should we win, we will still be on the hook to pay an additional fair market value, which will bankrupt the town.”
City officials need to take the blinders off and take a survey of where the city is financially so they can get their arms around the town’s looming deficit monster and bring it under control, according to Karen.
“I will call for an audit of all town departments to determine if funds are being spent as efficiently as possible,” Karen said. “The golf course and park and recreation are very important to the people of Apple Valley and I would like to keep them open. I will ask for a comparison of like cities and towns to determine if our fees are competitive. If not, I will ask for the planning commission to determine fair values.”
Karen said he will seek to use the town’s limited financial wherewithal judiciously and vector money to those areas where it will be most effective and responsive to the community’s needs. “I will try to increase our deputy count in the town and ensure that we partner with the fire district,” he said. “Working with the transportation and engineering departments, I will ask for a review of the worst roads in town.”
Karen said, “Everything that I proposed can be paid for by stimulating growth. Let the free market work and we will see large tax revenue from existing taxes. We do not need to raise sales tax to do this. We are responsible to the taxpayers of Apple Valley to be good stewards of their money.”
Karen said he had previous experience in politics that stands him in good stead to move into the council position he is seeking.
“I ran for school board unsuccessfully in 2012,” he pointed out. “I was appointed to the Apple Valley Fire Board in 2016. I won election to the fire board in 2016. I have been involved with every aspect of decision-making on the board. I am well prepared to take on the role of councilman.”
Karen has lived in Apple Valley since 2000. He was born in Wyoming while his father was serving in the Air Force. Later, he said, “My mother moved to Las Vegas where I grew up and went to Chaparral High School.” He attended the Community College of the Air Force, the University of Alaska, the University of Phoenix, and Victor Valley Community College. His major concentration has been business management.
Karen is employed as an inspector for Terminix International.
Married to the woman he characterized as “my best friend,” he has a fifteen year-old son at Granite Hills High School who plays quarterback on the Cougars.
Karen vowed, “I will work hard to do what is right for the people of the town. I want to be a servant of the people, not a politician. I don’t care about glory and I don’t usually care what people think of me. Having thick skin is definitely a good trait for a councilman. I have been told that the first decision I support, I will upset half of the people. The next decision will upset the other half! All I can do is try to find the right path and let the chips fall where they may. After all, I would serve at the will of the people.”