Laura Roughton, mayor of Jurupa Valley, stands in front of City Hall, situated… (Los Angeles Times )
We cannot even begin to say how disappointed we are by The Times' Aug. 3 editorial regarding the Inland Empire and our four recently incorporated Riverside County cities of Jurupa Valley, Eastvale, Wildomar and Menifee. The implication that all other California cities are subsidizing our communities is not remotely true. To the contrary, we have been subsidizing other communities for years as unincorporated areas when our locally paid tax dollars left our area because we weren't cities.
Since the passage of Proposition 47 in 1986, vehicle license fees (VLF), which date back to 1935, have been a constitutionally protected local source of revenue. Even before 1935, individual cities actually instituted their own VLF assessments. To ease collection and to promote uniformity, the Legislature replaced the locally administered programs with the more familiar statewide-coordinated billing process of today.
Although VLF monies were taken from all cities, the monies taken from our four cities and those municipalities that conducted inhabited annexations after 2006 are the ones subsidizing today's law enforcement grants and the realignment process. Thanks to the passage of SB 89 in 2011, we lost our full VLF distribution and received pennies on the dollar in grant money in return. In essence our cities are disproportionately paying for programs abdicated by the state.
Our four cities alone lost more than $16 million that would have funded our own law enforcement needs. Two of our jurisdictions, Jurupa Valley and Wildomar, have already been forced to reduce the number of law enforcement officers to below the level we had when we incorporated. The primary source for public safety in our four cities was the VLF. If insolvency caused by state action forces disincorporation of any of the four cities, then Riverside County will have to reassume responsibility for municipal services, including public safety, and without adequate offsetting revenues.
Up to now, VLF disbursements to counties were not earmarked for law enforcement. Realignment monies and law enforcement grants do not offset the cost of daily law enforcement services. Our incorporations actually helped to ease the county's burden for providing public safety, as this service became our responsibility. Incorporation was supposed to bring a higher level of public safety primarily funded with VLF revenue. Jurupa Valley and Wildomar residents currently receive fewer law enforcement services than those levels enjoyed by their counterparts in older communities.
So The Times' basic message message of "we need ours and you don't" is irresponsible. People in different communities deserve equal treatment. We deserve to have safe communities with local representation, as our citizens voted at each incorporation election. We are not throwaway cities.
The 2004 state budget agreement included the VLF-for-property tax swap. Though it established reimbursement amounts in the form of additional property tax revenues to existing cities and counties, it left future inhabited annexations and incorporations fiscally unviable. In 2006, AB 1602 addressed this inadequate funding by providing special supplemental allocation of city VLF revenue to new annexations and incorporations after 2004. Such funding was extended by SB 301 in 2008 -- that is, until the aforementioned SB 89 wiped out that funding in June 2011. It is important to remember that our four cities do not receive the same proportionate amount of property tax enjoyed by the 478 California cities that incorporated before 2006.
The attempt to level the playing field by granting more VLF monies to newly incorporated cities was meant to offset this property tax imbalance. The elimination of our VLF revenue now expands the distance between the new and the old. With our solution stalled in committee (SB 1566), time will tell if there is truly an inequality between the many and the few, a tyranny of the majority
Additionally, our state-caused financial troubles don't just stop at our municipal boundaries. The inability of one community to protect its residents affects those in surrounding communities as well.
What The Times seems to suggest to the nearly 266,000 residents of Jurupa Valley, Eastvale, Menifee and Wildomar (and the rest of Riverside County, for that matter) is that their public safety needs are less important than those in every other California city. So much for fiscal, social and economic justice.
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Ben Benoit, Jeff DeGrandpre, John Denver, Ronald O. Loveridge and Laura Roughton are the mayors of, respectively, Wildomar, Eastvale, Menifee, Riverside and Jurupa Valley. John F. Tavaglione is chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
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