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EXPLORING OPTIONS: San Bernardino County Sheriff's investigators leave a crime scene Friday in Apple Valley. Victorville, Hesperia, Adelanto and Apple Valley officials are exploring a public safety joint powers authority, which could mean controlling their own regional fire and police forces instead of contracting those services with San Bernardino County.

A more united Victor Valley

Cities join forces to boost prospects

VICTOR VALLEY • An effort to control costs in the sluggish economy has brought a growing spirit of cooperation among the Victor Valley's four cities, officials say.

Moves among Victorville, Hesperia, Adelanto and Apple Valley to explore a public safety joint powers authority — which could mean controlling their own regional fire and police forces instead of contracting those services with San Bernardino County — and a decision to unite to draw business to the area at a major trade show in Las Vegas this spring, point to a stronger working relationship.

In addition, the four Victor Valley mayors are now committed to meeting on a monthly basis to tackle important High Desert community issues as a single force, including such looming problems as county court closures, according to Hesperia City Manager Mike Podegracz.

“They are working together for the benefit of the entire High Desert,” Podegracz said. “There are many different factors, and the economy was one. But it’s a new dialogue that we just need to focus on.”

Hesperia and Victorville voted last week to approve a feasibility study for a public safety joint powers authority. Adelanto and Apple Valley are set to vote on the measure this week.

The focus is to provide acceptable levels of police and fire service for less cost, according to Adelanto City Manager Jim Hart. Like other city officials, he stressed that the quality of San Bernardino County’s fire and sheriff’s services are not the issue. It’s rising costs.

Hart said it’s especially problematic for Adelanto to keep up with increasing county costs because the city does not have a special district to collect taxes for the police or fire services.

“We pay fire and police directly out of our general fund,” said Hart. “And the highest increase (in our budget) each year is with fire and police costs.”

In a staff report for the up coming Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Apple Valley Town Manager Frank W. Robinson said “rising administrative fees associated with the county contract” is a shared concern between neighboring cities for conducting a feasibility study on the Public Safety JPA.

He writes in his report that last year’s administrative fee for the sheriff contract increased from 3 to 5 percent, and county Chief Executive Officer Gregory C. Devereaux has indicated that the county may begin to charge contract cities for services that have not been charged for in the past, such as helicopter usage.

“When public safety accounts for 48 percent of our general fund, we owe it to the taxpayers to evaluate the advantages and pitfalls of a JPA,” Robinson said in a phone interview last week.

Victorville City Manager Doug Robertson said costs have increased to more than $1.2 million last year for the same level of service for the city.

“We have been told to expect at least two more years of increases for retirement smoothing,” Robertson said, adding that he doesn’t yet know how much those increases will be. “In any business, if a service provider has significant increases in costs it is wise to consider and study alternative options.”

San Bernardino County won’t stand in the way if city leaders in the Victor Valley find that the study backs the viability of a public safety JPA, First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood said.

“Cities are solely responsible for all of the costs of providing police and fire protection to their residents. Therefore, cities have the absolute right to decide how to provide those services,” Lovingood told the Daily Press in an email. “We trust that as the cities examine how they will provide police and fire protection, we will be part of that discussion.”

Both Lovingood and county spokesman David Wert said the county is charging the cities for the actual costs associated with the services, and there is no financial wiggle room.

Wert said if the cities of the Victor Valley decided to no longer contract with the county, there would be no fiscal impact on the county, which makes no money on the arrangements.

It’s not the first time a public safety JPA study has been conducted.

A feasibility study was done in January 1997 for Apple Valley, Hesperia and Victorville for law enforcement services only, according to Podegracz’s staff report from last week. That study found that a threecity police department would cost $1.2 million to $1.5 million less than the current contract service from the county.

Podegracz said that although it isn’t clear why the JPA was not formed in 1997, “the estimated capital costs of $3.5 (million) to $4.5 million to initiate the JPA, as identified in the report, clearly played a role in the final decision.”

If the JPA moves forward it could be a step toward a more united Victor Valley, and possibly a safer one by opening the opportunity to get more fire and police personnel, Podegracz said.

The global retail real estate trade show in Las Vegas in May is more evidence of growing cooperation between cities.

The Vegas convention is called the International Council of Shopping Centers, and all Victor Valley municipalities will join northerly neighbor Barstow to share a booth for the first time this May.

Planning the Vegas trade show has showed city officials that the High Desert communities must stick together in business relationships to increase business prospects, Podegracz said.

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