Facing a looming deficit, Apple Valley seeks members for budget advisory committee

Two months after announcing budget-related cuts to services and staffing following the defeat of Measure O on the Nov. 3 ballot, Apple Valley officials are looking to increase community involvement in the town’s budgeting process.

The Town Council voted last week to create a Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee that will provide input in the review and recommendation process for Apple Valley’s annual budget, which faces a looming revenue deficit estimated at $4.5 million.

The 15-member committee will include Apple Valley’s five Town Council members and ten community members who will be appointed at a rate of two per councilor. Each community member must reside within Apple Valley or within its sphere of influence, town officials said in a statement.

The Town Council wants representation for specific user groups, such as development, aquatics and recreation; however, the community members will not be limited to those groups.

Mayor Curt Emick said the purpose of the committee is to allow the Town Council to hear from the community before additional cuts are made in Apple Valley.

After the election, many residents expressed concern about what should and should not be cut, Emick said in the statement. This committee, and the subsequent public budget workshops, will ensure that our residents and user groups have an opportunity to share their ideas about how we address this looming budget gap. I’m optimistic the community will come together to find solutions to these issues.

Town officials said major budget cuts have been proposed to help balance the upcoming Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget in response to rising costs and flattened revenues, a situation the town said has been worsened by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cuts, some of which have already been implemented, follow the resounding defeat in November of Measure O, a proposed 1% sales tax increase that would have generated $6 to $7 million in additional revenue for general fund services like police officers and recreation programs, among others.

In the end, more than 66% of voters said no to the measure.

The town announced an initial round of cuts days after the Nov. 3 election and weeks before results were certified by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters on Dec. 1.

Those cuts hit the Parks & Recreation Department hardest. The town closed the Civic Center Park Aquatic Center and its Distance-Learning Day Camp, which was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also halted an after-school activities program funded in partnership with the Apple Valley Unified School District.

Additionally, town officials instituted a hiring freeze for the foreseeable future, and three open positions on staff were not filled. Apple Valley spokesperson Orlando Acevedo told the Daily Press at the time that the positions were in the town’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments.

At the time, Town Manager Doug Robertson released considerations he planned to recommend to the Town Council to further reduce expenses. One such consideration — the closure of the Apple Valley Golf Course — would save an estimated $500,000 per budget year, the Daily Press previously reported.

Reducing the number of deputies and sheriff’s staff is also on the table to stabilize the escalating cost of law enforcement services and potentially save estimated $1.5 million.

Last year, the Town Council renewed its contract for law enforcement services with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department through June 2021, a move that cost approximately $15 million. The new contract included a $1.5 million increase over last year’s contract. Town officials expect the amount to climb to nearly $20 million by 2025.

Town officials might also consider staff furloughs that would close town offices and buildings to the public two days per month, resulting in an estimated cost savings of $1.16 million.

The town said the anticipated budget cuts follow previous steps made by Robertson in 2018 to reduce spending. The cuts included eliminating two assistant town manager positions previously held by Marc Puckett and Nikki Salas, cutting employee compensation and benefits, and closing Virginia Park near north Apple Valley.

As for the new Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee, the town hopes it will enhance the Town Council’s understanding of how residents want their tax dollars spent, according to the statement. The group will be expected to review and discuss financial reports, as well as the current year’s revenue and expenditure projections.

Committee members will also be asked to take the information learned back into the community so as to bring more questions and concerns back to the committee for further discussion.

Applications for committee seats are due Feb. 5. Members are scheduled to be appointed during the Feb. 9 Town Council meeting. The Committee is expected to meet once in February and twice a month in March, April and, potentially, May. All meetings will be live-streamed for public viewing, the town said.

For more information or to download an application, visit www.av.town/CBAC.

Email questions to [email protected].

Source: Matt Cabe, Daily Press