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Canyon Lake citizens launch ballot initiative to fund public safety

Photo provided by Rich Moline.

Canyon Lake Citizens for Public Safety, a committee of local residents, announced its effort to collect signatures for a citizen’s initiative to place a local measure on the November General Election ballot. The measure would establish a Public Safety Fund comprised of new and existing city revenue to pay exclusively for police and fire services.

City revenue has not kept pace with the growing costs of providing services, and multiple lawsuits seeking to cut off existing revenue are threatening the city’s ability to provide needed public safety services, putting Canyon Lake’s status as an independent city at risk.

In the past, Canyon Lake has experienced difficulty keeping up with public safety costs, and city staff expect costs to get worse. On the police budget alone, the city manager’s office has projected contract costs with the Riverside County Sheriff for police protection in Canyon Lake to increase 27% over the next five years, from $2 million this year to more than $2.5 million by 2029.

Compounding Canyon Lake’s fiscal problems, there is a lawsuit against the collection of the Utility User Tax (UUT) on water and sewer. The UUT was approved by 76.74% of Canyon Lake voters in 2018.

The potential loss of significant revenue from existing taxes, mixed with increasing costs for fire and police protection, paints a bleak picture of the city’s ability to remain solvent.

Looking at the current financial obstacles, Councilman Jeremy Smith stated, “Unfortunately, due to the high rise of inflation, we are having to make serious financial decisions in order to continue to balance the general fund. Public safety continues to be the number one agitator when balancing our books. The number one priority of the city council is to ensure the future of the city by maintaining a balanced budget. We continue to fight to secure funding for public services.”

One of the initiative’s proponents, retired firefighter Gary Bradford, said he is concerned the city will lose its independent status if Canyon Lake’s revenues do not catch up with costs. “We don’t want to give away our local control over important land use, public safety, and policy decisions to county supervisors who do not live here or know what is best for our community,” Bradford said.

Canyon Lake Citizens for Public Safety intends to help bolster the city’s financial position by protecting existing laws while boosting public safety revenue with their proposed Canyon Lake Public Safety Funding initiative.

The initiative would legally bind the city council to place the revenue collected by the water and sewer UUT taxes and the EMS Program into a newly formed Public Safety Fund, which would only be used for police and fire services. The initiative would also require the city council to direct revenue from new sales taxes into the Public Safety Fund.

This initiative would establish a three-quarters of a cent (0.75%) transaction and use (sales) tax on products and services in Canyon Lake, as well as a six-cent (6%) tax on retail cannabis products sold within the city limits. It would also allow the city council to increase the cannabis tax by up to 8%.

Proponents conservatively estimate the new taxes would generate roughly $400,000 a year for public safety services, but they await the city to make its own projections before November’s election.

Sam Theodora, a retired police officer and member of the committee, believes the less-than-a-penny sales tax increase will be a big boost for public safety funding while limiting the impact on local residents’ pocketbooks. “If the voters approve the measure, Canyon Lake’s sales tax will still be lower than Menifee, Lake Elsinore, and Murrieta, where my family and everyone I know do most of their shopping, including buying groceries,” Theodora said.

The initiative requires nearly 900 Canyon Lake voters’ signatures to qualify for November’s ballot.

Longtime community advocate Rich Moline aims for the committee to meet that goal within the next month to meet the required deadline. “This will be an ‘all hands on deck effort,” Moline said. “We’ve had numerous residents offer their time to collect signatures, and we’ve enlisted some part-time help to ensure success. Residents should expect to see me and others knocking on doors and staffing tables at community events and outside local businesses. I look forward to talking with fellow residents about how we can provide much-needed funding for our public safety services while helping avoid a financial crisis that threatens our local control over land use, budget, and policy decisions.”

The initiative has already gained the support of the Canyon Lake Firefighters Association. Canyon Lake Citizens for Public Safety plans on releasing more endorsements in the coming days.

To sign the initiative or for questions, contact Rich Moline at 951-285-1418 or [email protected]. To view the proposed ballot measure, visit http://www.CanyonLakePublicSafety.org.

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