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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 4:39 am | Fair 39º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: Making/Fulfilling New Year’s Resolutions; Unexpected Results

We’ve all done it, overcommitting ourselves to some New Year’s resolutions and then haven’t delivered positive results. Some are to trim weight, some to clean up the garage, and others like “I’ll eat more cupcakes next year” are easier to keep than the former.

In Lompoc, the City Council has a tough year ahead and perhaps decades of tough years follow if they can’t figure out how to solve their budget problem. "t was three councilmen’s last year’s resolution to “cut the budget” that is now catching up with them.

No one likes to pay taxes, but it’s General Fund revenue a.k.a. tax money that pays for police and fire services, street repairs, parks and recreation programs. It also pays for libraries, museums and a host of other things people in desirable cities expect to see and use.

Without these things, towns become unappealing to businesses looking for a place to locate, or retirees looking for a quieter place to live.

Thirty years ago, the space shuttle project at Vandenberg Air Force Base closed up shop after the shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after launch.

The diatomaceous mine south of town, then the largest private business in the area, also changed mining technology and almost all the 650 workers were laid off. Since then, the city has been on a steady downward trajectory.

This trend has been fed by so-called city leaders who have no vision of how to recover from the loss of tens of thousands of well-paid workers and the tax revenue they took with them.

Changes in the aerospace industry now rely on commercial space programs to place satellites in orbit. Experience taught the industry that simple machines could produce the same result as the overly complicated space launch vehicles of the past.

Thus, far fewer workers are required to place satellites in orbit.

The current crop of politicians are equally challenged. Three councilmen are trying to claim the title of “budget busters,” but their predecessors beat them to the punch years ago and now these three are left with sweeping away eraser dust from the ledger.

Instead of “eraser dust,” they are faced with trimming nearly $5-million from the two-year General Fund budget.

Previous councils wanted to fund pet projects and cast the essentials aside; to do it they deferred millions of dollars of much needed infrastructure maintenance. This included placing over $7-million of parks projects on the back burner and the parks system shows it.

All the city parks are in poor shape with the exception two that have been overhauled by citizen groups working with the city.

It also included the failure to replace a “temporary” fire station that’s been in planning for 30-plus years; addressing seismic safety issues at Fire Station No. 1; and building additional evidence storage space for the Police Department.

The roads and alleys throughout the city are in terrible shape, and City Hall is badly in need of a coat of paint — I doubt it’s been painted since it was built.

But the three march merrily along as if there isn’t anything wrong and have convinced many of their constituents that there isn’t a problem on the revenue side, only on the spending side of the city budget.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but government services are not free.

Someone must pay for them and in the United States, it is the taxpayer who bears the responsibility of providing the cash local governments need to provide services, so cities can maintain an adequate quality of life for the people living in them.

The council majority had a chance to allow citizens to have a voice, but they refused to allow temporary tax measures to be placed on the ballot; instead, they figured they would cut their way out of the shortfall.

But, before they cut, priorities need to be established. There are more than 100 items in the General Plan that people thought were important enough and the City Council, including the three “budget busters,” agreed “shall be provided.”

Of course, this is an impossible dream, so the list needs to be pared down to a more realistic number.

Considering there is virtually nothing left to cut in the deferred maintenance budge,t it will be more employees who will have to be let go, or simply not replaced when they retire or leave for higher paying jobs elsewhere.

Of course, this is foolish. What will these three say to someone who loses their house because the Fire Department didn’t get there quickly enough, or was understaffed and couldn’t enter their house until more people arrived from distant stations?

Or to a neighborhood terrorized by small-time hoodlums who feel free to shoot at each other because there aren’t enough cops to adequately patrol the city?

And, what about parks, libraries, the museum, and all those rutted roads? What will they say to the organizations that rely on public funding to provide services?

Yes, the three “budget busters” may have overcommitted themselves fulfilling their resolution to cut their way out of this budget mess. We eagerly await their answers and a plan.

— 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]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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