Apple Valley residents will vote on Measure F to decide fate of water acquisition (March 27, 2017)

APPLE VALLEY — Measure F is the official title of what will appear on the June 6 ballot for a special election that will decide the fate of both the town’s water-acquisition and financial futures.

An impartial analysis for Measure F was turned into the San Bernardino County Elections Office on March 20, according to town spokeswoman Kathie Martin.

A review of the one-page document shows that much of its language — outside of the measure’s name and that passage requires a simple majority — has been expressed previously, most recently during the March 9 meeting in which the Town Council voted to order the June 6 election.

Voter passage of Measure F — i.e. a yes vote on June 6 — would allow the town to finance a purchase of the water system currently owned by Liberty Utilities by issuing debt in the maximum amount of $150 million, the analysis shows.

As referenced on several occasions by Assistant Town Manager Marc Puckett, though, the analysis notes the town does not expect to issue that much debt for the acquisition.

Although the Town believes the value of the water system is significantly less than $150 million, it seeks approval for a maximum of $150 million because Town finance staff have indicated that is the level of debt for which the Town can pay the debt service through the elimination of profits, taxes, and other avoidable expenses, such as executive compensation, without having to increase rates for water system customers.

The analysis refers to another of Puckett’s claims, stating the town expects that it would be able to reduce rates for customers of the Apple Valley Water System if the system is acquired for less than $150 million.

Pursuant to the first of three resolutions adopted during the March 9 meeting, the interest rate on debt repayment cannot exceed 12 percent. During that meeting, however, Puckett stated he believes the rate could be as low as 4 percent.

Following a review of the analysis, Greg Sorensen — president of Liberty Utilities California — offered a measured response.

While we recognize that the Apple Valley town attorney responsible for producing Measure F’s Impartial Analysis is a partner in the Best, Best & Krieger law firm, we trust that voters will carefully review all available information and make an informed decision, Sorensen wrote in a statement that references Town Attorney John Brown, whose name is included at the end of the analysis.

Martin told the Daily Press last week, however, that Remcho, Johansen & Purcell LLP partner James Harrison wrote the analysis, not Brown. She added that BB&K contracts with Harrison’s firm for that purpose.

State Election Code says it’s the attorneys that write it, Martin said.

Still, Citizens for Government Accountability member Diana Carloni-O’Malley questioned the impartiality of the analysis.

One need only read the not-so impartial analysis, consider who wrote it, and recognize that the Town will do anything to deceive voters into a lifetime … of debt without stating the true financial impact on the community (e.g. interest on the bonds that must be paid over 30 years), Carloni wrote in a statement.

She called the analysis pure campaign hype and said the town may be violating the law by spending taxpayer money to campaign for, instead of educate the public about, Measure F.

In response, Martin said the analysis is as impartial as possible.

It’s all kept separate, Martin said. Town staff doesn’t review the impartial analysis, and there is a rebuttal period wherein objections can be made to something in the analysis.

Meanwhile, the county Elections Office is currently working on publishing a website for the election, according to Chief Deputy Registrar Audilia Lozada.

We expect to have it up soon, Lozada said, and it will contain information regarding the election, including the analysis and information about the measure.

She added that a voter guide will be published approximately 30 days before the election that will also include the analysis.

In the interim, a copy of the impartial analysis can be found here.

— Note: the copy obtained from the town did not include an Elections Office phone number. That number is 909-387-8300.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press