BY JEFF HORSEMAN | The Press-Enterprise
Four cities in Riverside County still coping with a 4-year-old revenue hit could get relief in the revised state budget offered by Gov. Jerry Brownon Thursday, May 14.
Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Wildomar and Menifee lost up to $19 million in vehicle license fee revenue in 2011 when state lawmakers reallocated the fees to law enforcement grants.
As newer cities -- they’ve all incorporated since 2008 -- their budgets relied on the fees to a greater degree than older municipalities. Jurupa Valley officials have warned that their city might have to dissolve without some relief.
The governor’s plan, according to the office of state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, calls for California to reduce the amount of money the county owes Sacramento for Cal Fire services. The county would then forgive debt owed to it by the cities -- $24 million for public safety services, according to Roth’s office.
Chuck Dalldorf, Roth’s chief of staff, compared the arrangement to parents paying off their kids’ credit card balances.
County Supervisor Marion Ashley, who represents Menifee, said the proposal will relieve the cities of a sizable financial burden.
“The governor reached out this time and gave us genuine help and support,” said Ashley, who also praised Roth.
The proposal, like the rest of the governor’s budget, needs the Legislature’s OK. State lawmakers have until June 15 to pass a new budget.
Roth, whose district includes Eastvale and Jurupa Valley, lauded the move.
“These cities, through no fault of their own, lost funding that every other new city historically received,” Roth said. “And I thank the governor for recognizing this critical issue of fairness and equity that threatened to force at least one city, Jurupa Valley, to dis-incorporate.”
For years, getting the fee money back has been a top priority for the county and the cities, which hired a Sacramento lobbyist to press their case.
The Legislature passed bills in 2012 and 2014 to restore the fees. But Brown vetoed them both, citing concerns about the bills’ effect on state finances.
This session, Roth offered another fee restoration bill. That legislation is pending.
Wildomar Mayor Ben Benoit said Brown’s proposal helps -- to a point.
“For our city, this is about a $1.3 million fix, but, truthfully, as far as our budgeting is concerned, we were only paying back $100,000 a year,” he said. “So it's only about a $100,000 net change in our budget.”
“It's a step in the right direction, but it doesn't erase the underlying inequity that still affects Wildomar,” he said.
Menifee Mayor Scott Mann, chairman of the Republican Party of Riverside County, said he appreciated the help, which would amount to about $4 million for Menifee. But Mann said it was a temporary fix.
“The concern going forward is municipalities can't build programs with one-time money,” he said. “And so we're all concerned that once the budget actually gets adopted -- what does it really mean for the four new cities going forward in terms of future (vehicle license fee) payments?”
Officials in Jurupa Valley and Eastvale were optimistic.
“This won't restore what we have lost but it certainly takes the monkey off our back from the debt standpoint,” said Jurupa Valley City Manager Gary Thompson. “It will put us in a much better position to work our way back.”
Robert Van Nort, an Eastvale consultant who served as an interim city manager, said: “We are encouraged but hope that the legislation is fair to all four cities that have been impacted by the loss of the vehicle license fee revenue.”
The plight of the four cities has been a sore subject for Inland politicians who often feel slighted by Sacramento.
Four years ago, Brown said he had to divert the fees because Republican leaders refused to consider higher taxes on incomes, sales and vehicles. In response, some Inland Republican lawmakers accused Brown of seeking revenge by hurting the four cities.
A supervisor at the time, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, was so angered by the fees’ diversion that he proposed splitting California in two.
County officials urged Brown to restore the fees when he visited Riverside in January 2014.
“I'm going to take a look at that,” the governor said at the time. “I don't want to commit to that. But everywhere I go in Riverside, they talk about the tale of four cities. I will talk to my folks about that. I don't understand all the arguments and logic there.”
Staff Writers Tom Sheridan, Sandra Stokley and Michael J. Williams contributed to this report.