Hesperia official backs AV’s acquisition attempt (November 17, 2015)

Support comes after Ranchos editorial brought Hesperia, Victorville into conversation

APPLE VALLEY — A Hesperia City Councilman publicly supported Apple Valley’s proposed acquisition of Apple Valley Ranchos’ water system last week, just days after Ranchos Finance Manager Eric Larsen compared the neighboring municipalities in a letter to the Daily Press.

Hesperia Mayor Pro Tem Bill Holland voiced his backing of the Town Council’s acquisition attempts during public comment at Apple Valley’s Nov. 10 meeting and told Town Manager Frank Robinson he had a dream team on the Town Council dais.

You have five council (members) that, quite frankly, are probably … some of the best councilmen in the entire county, Holland said. Of late, they have taken the slings and arrows thrown at them, personally and professionally, by folks who disagree with what I know they believe to be the best course of action for the town, and that is to move forward with the annexation, if you will, of the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company.

The Hesperia Councilman went on to say he fully supports the town and promised to assists at any moment the Apple Valley council members deemed his services necessary to their cause.

I’ve been brought to this point because, of late, there were some slings and arrows thrown not just at the town, but at the City of Hesperia and the City of Victorville, Holland said in his address to the council. I don’t believe in getting into anybody’s backyard, however, no matter what your position is on this issue, water is not something you can do without. It’s a utility in a sense, but it’s really a life measure. To profit from that to me is reprehensible, and to profit to the tune that the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company is profiting is exorbitant.

Holland’s comments came in response to a Nov. 3 editorial written by Larsen that shook the proverbial beehive when the Ranchos official cited Victorville and Hesperia as examples of what Apple Valley residents can expect should the town’s proposed takeover of the Ranchos water system prove successful.

Most of these cities charge connection fees for water service (between $4,000 and $6,000 in the High Desert) for every new home built during the housing boom several years back, Larsen wrote. These fees brought in millions of dollars that are typically set aside to replace aging water infrastructure in future years. But when water sales decrease due to state-mandated conservation requirements by the governor, cities like Hesperia and Victorville are dipping into these reserve funds, designated for water infrastructure, to supplement day-to-day operations.

The supplementing of day-to-day operations with reserve funds gives ratepayers a false sense of what it actually costs for their water service, according to the editorial, and Larsen said rates for water service remain artificially low as a result.

But Ranchos General Manager Tony Penna later apologized to both Victorville and Hesperia for Larsen’s suggestions of impropriety in a Nov. 7 letter to the editor.

In Ranchos’ commentary, Penna wrote, we attempted to communicate the differences between government-owned and privately owned, regulated water utilities with regard to their sources of revenue and the cost of providing water service. We recognize that the manner it was expressed could leave readers with the view that Hesperia or Victorville did something wrong, when that was not at all our intention.

Holland remained steadfast in defending Hesperia despite Penna’s apology, and while parts of his speech drew murmurs from the crowd, the Council appeared more than appreciative of the gesture of local solidarity.

(Ranchos has) increase after increase, he said in closing, and I can tell you as a commissioner from the water company in the City of Hesperia, as a nonprofit group, that does not happen. So, folks, keep up the good work. You have not just my support, but I’m with you. Godspeed.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press