Bosacki Seeks Hesperia Property Tax Equity As Political Legacy

Hesperia city councilman Paul Bosacki is on a crusade. Convinced that the city he represents has been unjustifiably deprived of a significant return of the property tax its residents pay, the one-term elected official said he wants to leave office knowing that Hesperia is getting a fair portion of the revenue due it.
Bosacki, who served on the city’s planning commission before being elected to the council in 2008, said he is not certain he will run for reelection later this year. For that reason, Bosacki is stepping up the pressure on county and state officials to redress the property tax distribution issue in Hesperia in the near term. He has called upon current First District county supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who is now vying for Congress and will not remain as supervisor representing Hesperia and most of the High Desert after December whether he is successful in his federal election bid or not, to assist him in his quest.
The property tax allocation formula for local governments in San Bernardino County is a complicated one under which there is no uniformity city to city. Previous to Hesperia’s incorporation in 1988, when the county directly provided many of the services  to the community along with the previously existing Hesperia Recreation and Park District, the Hesperia Fire District and the Hesperia Water District, that formula was somewhat less arcane. Upon incorporation, city officials failed to broker a very favorable split of property taxes with the county.
Like many of the cities that incorporated after the passage of Proposition 13, Hesperia was given a less-than-generous allotment of the diminishing property tax stream. This was a particularly harsh circumstance for Hesperia, which at 73 square miles, had over 473 miles of roads, many of them neglected and deteriorating.
The city was allotted a mere 1.59 percent of the property tax revenue – $1.59 of every $100 collected. That was the second smallest allotment of any of the cities in the county at that time and it is now the paltriest property tax share of any of the county’s current incorporated cities. At present, the county of San Bernardino keeps 14.23 cents of every property tax dollar collected in Hesperia. Indeed, in Hesperia there is a fifteen way split of property tax. The other thirteen beneficiaries of the property tax rolls are the Hesperia Unified School District, which is given 29.5 percent; another 21.41 percent goes to the Education Revenue Augmentation Fund, most of which comes back to the school district; the Hesperia Fire Protection District pulls in 15.3 percent, nearly ten times what the city receives; The Victor Valley Community College District claims 6.4 percent; the Hesperia Recreation and Park District is given 4.3 percent. The county’s flood control district claims 2.2 percent for operations and 0.09 percent for administration; the county library system takes 1.38 percent; the Hesperia Water District is provided 1.03 percent; Community Services Area 60, which lies at the city’s periphery, is entitled to 0.99 percent; the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools accroaches  0.97 percent; the Mojave Water Agency abducts 0.50%; and the Mojave Desert Resource Conservation District nabs 0.02 percent.
Hesperia was not the only city in the county which formerly found itself shortchanged with regard to the division of property tax. Chino Hills, Apple Valley, Highland, Victorville, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Adelanto found themselves in similar circumstances, with Victorville at that time being allotted no return in property tax at all. In no case were any of those cities experiencing more than a 5.2 percent  return of property tax collected within their respective borders. In 2003, the county agreed to allot all of those cities 7 percent of the property tax on any land annexed into those cities after that point. Also, several of the cities, individually and collectively pursued litigation and legislation sponsored by local state lawmakers aimed at upping those cities’ property tax revenue.
Hesperia participated in those efforts. The first legislative effort in this regard, Assembly Bill 1057, failed on the Senate floor in 1999. Subsequently, then-Assemblyman Phil Wyman introduced Assembly Bill 1378, which was designed to give Hesperia a larger share of property taxes collected by the county, such that Hesperia at that time stood to be the recipient of $2 million more per year if Assembly Bill 1378 passed. But the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to oppose AB 1378 and a key member of the board, former assemblyman and then chairman of the board Fred Aguiar lobbied in Sacramento against it. Wyman than dropped the legislative try, saying “I killed the bill because we’d rather do it together at the local level.”
Hesperia officials abandoned the legislative approach and pulled out of litigation it was engaged in as a co-plaintiff with other cities after assurances were provided that then-Hesperia Mayor Jim Lindley would be able to use his entré with his then-political ally, then-supervisor Bill Postmus, to amicably negotiate with the county an increase in Hesperia’s share of the property tax return. For Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, and Fontana, the litigative/legislative approach succeeded and by 2006, those cities saw an increase in their end of the formula for property tax splits.
Victorville saw its share of property tax pass-through upped from zero to 4.72 percent, with 6 percent going to its fire district and 5 percent going to its park district.
Apple Valley was granted 9.4 percent of the property taxes its residents pay and another 9.2 percent was handed over to the town’s fire district.
The city of Rancho Cucamonga now gets 5.11 percent and its fire district is provided with 12.48 percent.
A deal was brokered with the city of Chino Hills such that it continues to get a 3.9 percent return on property tax paid for property that was previously within the city and ten percent of taxes from new development. The city of Chino Hills’ fire district also receives 15.15 percent of the property tax paid by Chino Hills residents.
In Fontana, the city receives a 3.8 percent property tax return, while its fire department is granted an 18.55 percent return.
The city of Highland is given 24.4 percent of the property tax collected within city limits.
Adelanto is the only other city in the county that accompanies Hesperia in continuing to stand on the outside looking in with regard to the niggard distribution of property tax. It receives 1.75 percent of residents’ property tax.
Bosacki maintained that “Hesperia is being forced to make do with too little. Hesperia receives 1.59 cents of every dollar collected from property taxes. That is the lowest amount in the county. The reason Hesperia can’t provide public services is that our property tax dollars are still going to the county. That has been the problem since 1988, when Hesperia first became a city, and it has just compounded because of the years of neglect to our infrastructure. We can’t pay for new infrastructure and we are not staying up with the upkeep on the old infrastructure. The traditional purpose of local property tax is to pay for services where the tax is collected. Public services such as police and roads and the responsibility for paying for them were transferred to the city from the county in 1988, but the property tax dollars collected from Hesperia residents have remained with the county and those dollars are being spent on county programs not within the city of Hesperia city limits.”
Bosacki suggested that a portion of the tax money collected from Hesperia property owners that is going not only to the county but other agencies should be taken away from those entities and rerouted to the city.
“After so many agencies have taken their pieces of the pie, we are being left with a too small amount of cash to work with,” he said. “The property tax problem has not changed for the people of Hesperia. We remain a cash cow for the county.” Bosacki suggested that the Hesperia Recreation and Park District, which functions on an annual budget of more than $15 million and charges use fees, could afford to give up a significant part of the 4.3 percent of locally collected property tax it receives.
“The average amount received by cities in San Bernardino County is 13.9 percent,” Bosacki said. “Hesperia receives 1.59 percent back and we haven’t been able to remedy the problem. This is an inappropriate tax allocation. The poor folks in Chino Hills were only getting back 4 cents out of every property tax dollar, and they were able to get a special dispensation where they now get ten percent on all new development. We are in a way worse position than they were. I would like to see them, or any other city try to provide services on 1.59 cents out of every dollar like Hesperia.”
Bosacki was critical of the city’s past political leadership, which he said had allowed the situation to persist for far too long. He suggested that the dialogue and negotiations with the county that Lindley, as the city’s former mayor had sought to substitute for legislative or litigative fixes, had run aground when Postmus, Lindley’s erstwhile political ally, offered Lindley a job with the county. Lindley, with Postmus’ backing, became county legislative analyst in 2005 and was later promoted to the positions of county chief purchasing officer and then county health officer. He is now city manager in the Northern California City of Dixon. Postmus later had a celebrated falling out with Lindley before Lindley departed San Bernardino County. Postmus received a black eye himself, having been charged with political corruption, and last year he pleaded guilty to fourteen felony counts including soliciting and receiving bribes, conspiracy and perjury. The welfare of Hesperia was lost in the shuffle, Bosacki said. Postmus’ hand-picked successor, Mitzelfelt, promised to assist Hesperia, but so far has not delivered, Bosacki said. He called upon Mitzelfelt to make good on that promise before he leaves office in December.
“Now is the time, Mr. Mitzelfelt, to put the Hesperia tax problem in front of the board of supervisors and fix this 24-year-old problem for good,” Bosacki intoned.  “Hesperia voters are watching and waiting, and expect equal and fair treatment with our tax dollars, like our neighbors in Apple Valley, who get 9 percent returned to them. The ball is in your court. The state took away our redevelopment agency and with redevelopment funding gone, Hesperia needs its local tax dollars to be spent on Hesperia

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