Southern Utah town of Apple Valley may disincorporate
Is something rotten in Apple Valley? Or, as the mayor claims, are its citizens so accustomed to living as they please that a few simple rules are enough to prompt them to try to dissolve the town?
The issue could come to a head if a 5th District judge rules that a petition to disincorporate the town of about 750 residents is valid. County clerk Kim Hafen said the signatures have been verified. If the petition is certified by a judge, an election likely would be set so residents could vote on whether they want to become part of Washington County.
Resident Stephen Rundquist said he would vote to disincorporate the town, located between Hurricane and Hildale.
"My experience with the town has been an increasing disappointment as I became more and more aware that [it is] run by a close-knit oligarchy," said Rundquist.
Amber Vanalfen is another critic, who charges that the fire department failed to respond to an attic fire in her house.
"They are just pursuing their own agenda," Vanalfen said of town officials, noting her fire was extinguished by crews from nearby Hildale.
Apple Valley consists mostly of homes on minimum one-acre lots, many of them invisible from State Road 59. The town has no industrial development, and its only commercial business is a convenience store and gas station, so all operating funds come from property taxes.
The town wasn't incorporated until 2004, 25 years after people began living there.
Resident complaints range from allegedly frivolous citations issued for a variety of offenses of the town code to creation of a voter-approved water and sewer special service district earlier this year, and rules on maintaining property.
Mayor Richard Moser said such complaints, as well as accusations of misappropriation of funds, are baseless. He suggested that residents who question what town leaders are doing voice their concerns during town council meetings instead of afterward in the parking lot.
"If we are corrupt, there are enough fail-safes in place and checks and balances that we would get caught," he said. He added that Apple Valley, whose annual budget is just $260,000, is audited every year.
Rundquist said he feels betrayed over the demise of plans to form a Community Emergency Response Team and to create an emergency management plan and fire department training program.
He said he was authorized by the state's Division of Emergency Management to organize programs in southern Utah, and after he retired in 2008, volunteered to organize programs in Apple Valley and arrange for state grants that for a couple of years totaled $5,000 a year.
He claims the town council diverted the money to other uses, which he concedes was legal, but that the grants stopped coming when it became obvious the town wasn't interested.
"The [volunteer] programs just withered on the vine," he said. "There had to be enough volunteers to keep it going."
He also complained that ballots went missing in the election to create the special service district, a charge Moser denies. Rundquist claimed the measure passed by only seven votes.
Rundquist said many people moved to the area to escape government regulation and resent being told to conform with town ordinances, such as where and how home "for sale" signs can be displayed on property.
Moser said town ordinances are intended to improve the town's appearance, including those limiting junk cars on property and controlling weeds on large lots.
"We just want to put together good ordinances to maintain the pristine look," he said of the town council. "This area of the county is the only place with room to grow. Other towns can't expand because they are up against Bureau of Land Management and state trust lands. All I want is to see us grow and develop to protect our beauty and recreation opportunities."
As for Vanalfen's complaint about her burning attic, Moser said the fire department is automatically dispatched out of Hildale because of how the 911 emergency dispatch is configured. He said the volunteer fire department in Apple Valley is trained in wildland fires but not yet in how to put out structure fires.
Even if they were trained, the water system, once owned by a private company, is in such bad shape that it could not provide adequate flow for firefighters.
That's one reason the town created the special service district. Another is to bring the town's water supply into compliance with state drinking water standards. Moser said the water is among the lowest quality in Utah.
The special service district was created to help fund improvements. Money will be raised through impact and hook-up fees. Moser said the district is set up as a non-taxing entity even though it can levy taxes.
"Local governments need to provide services in the community if we want to move forward," he said. "We're not trying to single others out [for harassment]."
Dale Beddo, chairman of the town's planning commission, said few people were cited for violating county ordinances before the town incorporated. Now that town ordinances are being enforced, residents are resistant.
"We always issue a warning at first before a citation if they don't comply," he said.
Beddo said the scenic splendor of nearby national parks and the area's isolation make it a great place to live, but it needs need to change with the times.
"We don't want to be a hermit community," he said.