Parcel taxes defeated, spending limits supported

RIVERSIDE – Voters in two Riverside County cities frowned upon a pair of proposed parcel taxes aimed at bolstering municipal services, while residents of other communities approved measures on spending limits and lower compensation for council members.

Wildomar residents defeated Measure Z — a remake of the failed Measure D that residents considered in the November 2011 election. Under Measure Z, the city would impose an annual $28 parcel tax on property owners for the maintenance of three municipal parks.

Proponents, including Wildomar Mayor Ben Benoit, son of Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, argued the tax is vital if the city is to continue with basic landscaping, graffiti removal and light fixture replacements at the parks. Marna O’Brien park will have to close without the revenue Measure Z would generate, proponents say.

Opponents countered that the estimated $350,000 netted from Z is far more than what’s needed to maintain the parks. They pointed out that neighboring Murrieta spends about $5,000 per acre for green space maintenance, while Wildomar city officials are proposing to spend $25,000 per acre.

The measure needs the support of two-thirds of voters.

Voters in Indian Wells, meanwhile, soundly rejected a parcel tax. Measure R called for a $171 annual assessment to fund landscaping and outdoor lighting improvements in the city’s Landscaping and Lighting Maintenance District No. 91-1, comprising 18 distinct zones.

The tax would have taken effect in July and been adjusted annually in line with changes in the regional rate of inflation.

Most of the funds would have been allocated for improvements on public rights-of-way along Highway 111, Cook Street and Eldorado Drive. One resident, Michael Anderson, appealed to fellow voters to reject the measure ”because it improperly benefits a limited number of privately owned properties.”

Indian Wells had two other measures on the ballot — Q and S. The former was considered a routine change to the process of selecting the mayor and mayor pro tempore, as well as the process for removing them from their positions.

Under Measure Q, which passed easily, the longest-serving council member and the second-longest serving council member will automatically qualify, respectively, to be the mayor and mayor pro tempore. The new criteria for losing the positions will include four unexcused absences from council meetings, censure by the council or arrest for a felony.

Measure S, which also sailed to easy passage, mandates a change in compensation to save the city money. A council member’s salary will drop from $2,300 to $1,000 per month. However, the mayor will earn an additional $500 a month for service, while the mayor pro tem will receive an additional $250.

In campaign literature, advocates of Measure S called the existing compensation scheme, which includes taxpayer-funded pension plans for each council member enrolled in the California Public Employees Retirement System, ”excessive for a city of 5,000 residents.”

Opponents of the measure said the council has already voluntarily slashed benefits to the point of making council members ”in the lower third of Coachella Valley cities when it comes to compensation.”

In the cities of Eastvale and Jurupa Valley, voters were asked to approve new annual budget appropriations limits to assure the municipalities can earmark sufficient funding for basic services.

Eastvale voters backed Measure BB, which calls for a $14.54 million limit, compared to the previous $13.93 million limit set by the Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission three years ago, when the city was founded.

Jurupa Valley voters, meanwhile, supported Measure P, which calls for a $28.96 million limit, compared to a $27.91 million established by LAFCO two years ago.

The changes are necessary to comply with provisions in state law that compel localities to operate within their means and according to how much taxes they create.

Jurupa Valley is teetering on disincorporation because of the state’s abrogation of funding to assist nascent cities, officials said. The money was diverted last year to support the governor’s realignment programs.

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