Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 1:06 am | Fair 47º

 
 
 
 

Still Far Apart on Shortfall Solution, Lompoc Council Extends Budget Deadline 2 Months

Wrestling with a big budget deficit, Lompoc City Council members gave themselves a two-month reprieve to continue reviewing whether to make spending cuts, ask voters to raise taxes or adopt some combination of solutions.

The council met Thursday night for a nearly four-hour special budget meeting, after taking up the topic during Tuesday night’s regular council meeting. Plans call for continuing the discussion during a June 20 regular meeting and a June 26 special meeting.

On Thursday, with the budget woes far from being solved , the council voted 5-0— a rare unanimous outcome— to extend the deadline through August for adopting a spending blueprint.

The two-year budget for the fiscal years starting July 1 and running through June 30, 2019, needs $1.4 million in either additional revenue or cutbacks, prompting the council to ask staff to make multiple tweaks that have seen some items added back in and others subtracted in various drafts.

But future two-year budgets face bigger holes due to shortfalls in employee pensions, which are managed by the California Public Employees Retirement System. CalPERS has alerted Lompoc, along with other municipalities, about unfunded liabilities requiring big contributions to meet obligations in the coming years.

After a May 30 meeting at which the council balked at asking voters to approve three new taxes, City Manager Patrick Weimiller returned with a proposal to make up for the lack of new revenue, including closing Ken Adam and River parks and eliminating the contract for Santa Barbara County to provide animal control services.

The first draft of the budget slashed funding for nonprofit organizations, including the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, the Lompoc Museum and others, prompting supporters to plead for reconsideration.

Thursday night, the council directed staff to return with draft budget showing 4 percent, 5 percent and 6 percent cuts across the general fund, where possible, and with the funding for nonprofit organizations included again.

Councilman Jim Mosby has sought the across-the-board reductions in the budget, noting that Santa Barbara County has undertaken similar cuts, rather than seeking taxes.

“It’s more of a fair situation across the whole spectrum,” he said, adding that one of the city’s other proposals hits parks with a 28 percent cut while other departments would have none.

City Council members also want to find out whether a pension obligation bond would be feasible, using income from the three tax measures to address the problem.

“I think it’s really important to at least go through that exercise and have that discussion so we have looked at all our options, because for me that’s a long-term win-win,” Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne said, adding that the tax measures should include an end date.

The council previously rejected asking voters to approve the taxes, but agreed last week to at least consider them moving forward.

“It’s not that we are going to ask the city manager to put it on the ballots, it’s just that we have it as a tool ...,” Mayor Bob Lingl said.

One tax measure would increase sales tax by one-half percent. Another would boost the transient-occupancy tax, or hotel bed tax, by 2 percent. A third measure would raise utility users’ rate by 6 percent. The measures would be placed on the November 2018 ballot to seek voter approval.

Other proposed cuts have been eliminating the $93,000 grant to the Lompoc Unified School District for crossing guards, trimming ammunition for Lompoc police and reducing SWAT training.

Near the start of Thursday’s meeting, several residents suggested that marijuana could be the solution to the city’s budget troubles.

Resident Joe Garcia recommended that the council consider “the green elephant,” or potential tax revenue from legalized marijuana.

“I am completely baffled that we have a city that just concluded a five-month-long ad hoc (committee) on marijuana, yet we have a city manager who has failed to even consider including what potential tax revenue could be generated for the city should the city vote to legalize,” he said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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