Tuesday, December 1 , 2015, 2:38 pm | Fair 69º

Ron Fink: Can the City of Lompoc Afford to Subsidize Community Events?

By Ron Fink |

Lompoc has a lot of community spirit just like every other community in the United States. Folks want to celebrate holidays and occasions with organized gatherings, and the best place to do it is usually in a city park for car enthusiasts to cruise their cars and display their creations for all to see along public streets.

But city services to support these events aren’t free. A good example is this year’s Lompoc Police Foundation and Firefighters Foundation’s 13th annual Cruise Night and Car Show. All of the costs associated with this event were carefully documented in a staff report on the July 15 City Council agenda so that they could see how much and where the money was coming from.

The largest item on this list was $9,000 to close portions of Ocean Avenue. There were other costs for trash removal and the use of park facilities, but these were small in proportion. The event organizers share of services was to provide security and crowd control for the event.

Based on the staff report, it appears that this event is entirely funded by the economic development and tourism budget and a couple of hundred dollars from both the recreation and solid waste funds. To recover these costs, the city anticipates that a large number of people will visit Lompoc to both show their cars and view the event — theoretically tax revenue would be generated from the bed and sales tax as these visitors spend money in Lompoc businesses.

Of course, you can’t calculate how much of the $9,000 will be recovered. It takes a lot of sales and sleeping guests to bring in that much considering that the state grabs the lion’s share of any sales and bed tax money generated in our community.

In another presentation on July 15, Teresa Galvan, the assistant city administrator and economic development director, told the City Council that the city currently supports 13 community events like this one annually at about $10,000 each for a total cost of $130,000 per year which represents about one-half of the annual economic development and tourism budget, which is part of the General Fund.

The current practice seems to be to shuffle money from the overall budget of each department to support these events and this presentation was a heads-up that city management would be providing a clearer picture of the costs for services to the council in next year’s budget hearings. This would allow the council to establish funding priorities rather than leaving it up to department heads to try and figure out how to provide service for the events.

She pointed out that the way public money can be used has changed significantly over the last decade. For example, street repair funds might not be suitable to support street closures for parades, cruise night or the Friday Old Town farmers market but other funds could be.

Another issue is how to develop a consistent policy/fee schedule, or service menu for how events are supported. According to the city administrator, there is no such policy in place. It is understandable why none exists because as the number of events increased each was treated separately; funds may have been readily available in years past and as each event organizer approached city leaders to plead their case they were accommodated for the greater good on the citizens.

The council couldn’t and didn’t discuss the big picture for event funding on July 15 because it had not been placed on the agenda. But they did get a good idea of what the challenge is that faces them.

To be clear it didn’t appear to be the intent of the city administrator to simply pull the rug out from under event organizers. As this new approach evolves, there should be a series of workshops leading up to the budget hearings to allow event organizers and the city to come to some sort of understanding and create a menu of costs that can be evenly applied to all events.

There are many community events large and small; some create larger service needs than others. For example, the Flower Festival occupies Ryon Park for four days a year and closes large portions of H Street and Ocean Avenue for a parade and the annual dog show closes the park for three days. Festival and dog show organizers pay substantial fees for power hook ups, trash removal and road closures to name a few. But do these fees cover all of the actual costs for service?

So as the debate goes forward, the challenge will be to figure out how to mitigate that $130,000 drain on the General Fund each year. I am wondering if this discussion will result in cost recovery or simply be a matter of shuffling funds and increasing the budget for each department without identifying any new sources of revenue.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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