Hesperia Mayor Predicts Measure’s Failure Will Erode Safety

Measure F, the parcel tax initiative sponsored by the county fire union that would have imposed a $100 per year parcel tax on property in Hesperia, was overwhelmingly defeated in the balloting on November 8.

Hesperia residents voted more than four-to-one against the measure, with 81 percent against it and 19 percent in favor. Because the money to be generated by the tax was to be restricted to specific uses, it required a two thirds majority to pass.

Proponents of Measure F said the money would be used to maintain service levels, particularly paramedic coverage, functioning from the city’s fire engines.

In the aftermath of the measure’s failure, Hesperia mayor Mike Leonard, a former firefighter with the city before the department was merged with the county and later a firefighter with the county before he retired, said firefighting and safety service in Hesperia would now suffer.

“We’re going to have a meeting with the chief and see what he suggests,” Leonard said of the city council. “We want to see what the fire department suggests that we can do. I don’t know if we will discuss it publicly or in closed session. It will probably come during our meeting next month. I want to wait to see what they might have to suggest, but one way or the other what it is going to come down to is eliminating nine positions. It could be one guy off each engine or shutting down a station and parking one fire engine. There could be other things they have in mind, but I don’t know what.

“Either way you go, there is a safety issue,” Leonard continued. “If we cut engines, there will be a longer response time to at least some parts of the city and if you reduce firefighters on the trucks, there will be an equal concern about firefighter safety.”

Leonard defended the effort to seek passage of a measure that was dedicated to providing funding for the fire department instead of seeking an extension of a recently discontinued half cent sales tax override, the money from which could have been distributed by the council as it saw fit. That measure could have been passed on a simple majority of fifty percent plus one vote.

“If we would have put the sales tax on the ballot and it passed, that money would have gone into the city’s general fund. This council would have used it for public safety, but two or four years from now the council could change and a new council could spend that revenue anyway they want to. I know that when we said the money would go for public safety we had to get two thirds. But if we did it differently, there is no guarantee in further years that the money would be used for public safety. If new members were voted onto the council and they wanted to use that money for roads, then it would be sent over for roads and we would be where we are now, having to lay off firefighters. There would have been no guarantee.”

Leonard said the public sentiment had changed to the point where citizens are not cooperating with city officials.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” Leonard said. “People don’t trust government anymore. I don’t know where we are going to go from here. There are for sure going to be cuts and it will be up to the county fire chief and his staff to make safety suggestions and the council will act on one of them. That’s life. It is what it is.”

Al Vogler, the husband of former mayor and councilwoman Rita Vogler, was a major advocate against the parcel tax.

He called the measure “deceptive,” saying that it was designed to increase the pay for firefighters rather than to enhance safety.

“Had the tax passed, it would have meant an approximate $100 per year new tax to all Hesperia property owners,” Vogler said. “When the tax was originally proposed by the Hesperia city council, taxpayers were led to believe that the measure would be for $5.5 million. Instead, when the measure was written, it morphed into a $13.6 million deception. Three members of the Hesperia city council voted to place the measure on the ballot at a cost of over $150,000. All three are firefighter union-backed politicians and two of them signed a “no new taxes” pledge in 2010. It didn’t take long for the pledge to be violated and voters quickly realized that it was the “no new taxes” council members who were pushing for passage of the measure.”

Vogler criticized the firefighters union president, Brett Henry, for statements in mailers to Hesperia residents to the effect that 1,500 Hesperians had recently been evacuated during a fire. “This event never happened but was rather a scare tactic by the union,” Vogler asserted.

Moreover, Vogler claimed, the failure of Measure F is a harbinger of political change.

“The Measure F campaign result sent a shock wave to the status quo arrangement between the fire union and the county board of supervisors,” Vogler said. “The union has for years financed political campaigns for candidates who, should they win the election, were then expected to vote favorably for items which benefitted the fire union and their employees. We believe that candidates for election in 2012 have already been selected by the union. However, when the union gives campaign funding to candidates who are already in disfavor with the voters, the backlash from the pro-Measure F campaign will result in an election loss for some of the candidates.”

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