Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 9:30 pm | Fair 52º


Lompoc Council Rejects Asking Voters To OK Taxes To Fill Budget Gaps

City spending blueprint sees big hit from pensions, suggests not funding outside groups include museum, Chamber of Commerce

Lompoc Councilman Dirk Starbuck, left, and Mayor Bob Lingl listen to a budget hearing Tuesday night. The City Council rejected a proposal to ask voters in the city to approve three new taxes. Click to view larger
Lompoc Councilman Dirk Starbuck, left, and Mayor Bob Lingl listen to a budget hearing Tuesday night. The City Council rejected a proposal to ask voters in the city to approve three new taxes. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Despite a bleak budget outlook that has city officials discussing the possibility of municipal bankruptcy, the Lompoc City Council on Tuesday rejected three proposed tax measures to boost revenue, and instead told staff to return with suggested cutbacks.

The council held a special meeting Tuesday night to tackle the topic of the proposed two-year spending blueprint for 2017-2019, but expects to take up the topic one or two more times at upcoming meetings.

City Administrator Patrick Weimiller spoke of losing sleep about the city’s draft budget, which proposed eliminating nearly all capital improvement projects and dropped $600,000 in funding for outside agencies such as the Lompoc Museum, the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and others.

Weimiller said Lompoc, like other cities in the state, faces a huge hole due to pensions through the California Public Employees Retirement System, CalPERS, which accounts for $5.8 million in the first two-year cycle. That number is projected to rise $2 million after that, hitting $11.5 million by 2023-2025.

To boost revenue, city staff proposed asking voters in November 2018 to approve three tax measures — a one-half cent sales tax hike, a 2-percent increase in the transient occupancy tax or hotel bed tax and a 6-percent utility user tax. 

“I’ve avoided using the words Lompoc and bankruptcy in the same sentence before,” Weimiller said, adding the city is at a pivotal point where voters consider the tax measures or the city looks at bankruptcy. “I do not see another way out of it.”

Near the start of the meeting, Weimiller said one person suggested the city should build new homes to fill the budget gap.

“We cannot build our way out of this and we cannot reduce our costs as a way out of this,” Weimiller said. “This is just too ominous of a number.”

He added that any talks of laying off employees or reducing hours would require identifying what services would be eliminated.

“We could eliminate all services all together and we’d still have the same $70 million bogey that we have to resolve. That doesn’t go away,” Weimiller said. 

Without the revenue from the proposed tax measures, the city would need nearly $1.4 million for the 2017-2019 cycle and approximately $10 million for each two-year cycle after that, Weimiller said.

He urged the council to let voters decide whether to impose the proposed taxes.

“The only question I have is why wouldn’t we let voters decide. I’m not understanding, quite frankly, the opposition here,” Weimiller said, adding that he would spend the next 18 months educating voters on the tax measures and services they receive.

But Councilman Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega voted near the end of the two-hour meeting Tuesday night to direct staff to return with a draft budget that focuses on making cuts, rather than relying on revenue generated from taxes.

“It needs some trimming,” Mosby said, noting the city had a $55 million general fund budget for 2011-2013 compared to the proposed $68 million for 2017-2019.

“I think we can tighten it up and get through this,” Mosby said. 

Starbuck and Vega expressed concern about burdening financially struggling residents with new taxes.

“Some people cannot afford to flush their toilet every time they go, but to add a 6-percent tax on top of that, I don’t think they will vote to raise their own utility rates,” Starbuck said. 

Mayor Bob Lingl noted the difficult decisions facing the elected council members in fulfilling their jobs.

“We’re all advocates for the citizens, but we also have a fiduciary responsibility,” Lingl said. 

Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne said the voters should be allowed to weigh in on tax measures.

“While I don’t support the idea of taxing our way out of our difficult situation, it is up to those that live here to make a decision about what services they do want to see continued,” she said. 

“If you don’t want want services cut what do you want done to keep them?” she asked later.

During the meeting, several supporters of the Lompoc Museum urged the council to consider funding the organization approximately $60,000 a year.

Representatives of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness and a victim advocate who works closely with law enforcement officers also spoke on behalf of continuing to receive funding from Lompoc.

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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