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Lompoc Council Backs Off Plans For Proposed Fire Station After Deciding It’s Too Costly

Tuesday's 3-2 vote kills plans for city's new Fire Station No. 2 after months of City Council gridlock

Lompoc City Council members ended a months-long impasse on a proposed fire station by voting 3-2 to direct city staff to develop a savings fund from development impact and other fees to be used to build a new station at some point in the future. 

Mayor Bob Lingl warned that voting for the plan proposed by Councilman Jim Mosby “is killing the fire station for an undetermined amount of time.”

Councilmen Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega voted for the savings plan, with Lingl and Councilmen DeWayne Holmdahl voting against.

The proposed $14 million, 23,373-square-foot station is almost 10 times the size of the station it is intended to replace, Fire Station No. 2 built in 1985 at 1100 North D St.

With financing, the cost of the proposed station jumps to $29.8 million spread out over 27 lease payments paid from the city’s general fund budget.

The bulk of the nearly two hours of council discussion Tuesday centered on recently released financial data from staff that projected paying for the station would require using most of the $2 million emergency cash reserves for several years in order to balance the city budget.

“You are rooting into emergency funds for six, eight, 10 years,” Mosby said. 

“If something like Flint, Michigan, and their water issue happened here and you needed to buy bottled water, that’s the type of thing you have an emergency fund for. Where do we go deeper after that?”

He reminded council members that previous councils laid off employees, put a freeze on hiring, and placed employees on unpaid furlough days to protect the emergency cash reserves.

“Since 1994, that $2 million has been guarded and protected by multiple councils for emergencies,” he said.

Holmdahl claimed Mosby’s savings plan was “just another easy way for the City Council to kick the can down the road.”

But Mosby said he was proposing the council “do what previous councils should have done and start a savings account not just for this project, for other projects as well. I’m saying stop kicking things down the road.”

Prior to the vote, City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said he welcomed Mosby’s proposal to update impact fees intended to pay for new or replacement facilities required by new growth, regardless of the vote on the proposed fire station.

“It takes not only the foresight to establish those impact fees, it takes the intestinal fortitude to continue to defend those along the way over the years,” Wiemiller said.

In response to a question from Vega, Wiemiller acknowledged that approving the project would delay being able to pay for the needs of other departments, including police, streets and parks for an unknown period of time.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a turn-the-corner critical mass on our revenue soon. I think that’s going to be a steady, long grind,” he said.

“If we move forward with this, we’re dipping into the economic uncertainty fund with our creative financing to the point where we’ve put all our eggs in one basket,” Vega said.

“It’s almost like we’re willing to go down with the ship as far as the police (department) is concerned.”

After the vote, Wiemiller said he was disappointed but “very upbeat” that the council voted to implement a savings plan for future facilities.

“Hopefully we can circle back then, having conquered that, and be able to make a recommendation on fire stations and other facilities based upon a revenue stream that would be established.”

Lingl said he was satisfied that the council ended the extended stalemate over the proposed project.

“I’m not disappointed because the process we have in the city for a council of five people to make decisions worked,” he said.

“There’s no doubt it was a gamble, but it was a gamble I was willing to take because of the need for a fire station.”

Noozhawk contributing writer Carol Benham is a longtime local journalist who lives in Lompoc. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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