Lompoc Councilman Jeremy Ball
Lompoc Councilman Jeremy Ball talks about a proposal to increase the city’s transient occupancy tax by 1%, with funds directed to public safety. The council is scheduled to take formal action in June to place the measure before voters this fall.

The Lompoc City Council directed staff to pursue placing a transient occupancy tax hike on the November ballot with funds directed to public safety.

During an hourlong discussion Tuesday night, council members agreed to ask voters to approve a special tax increase of 1% for renting hotel rooms.

Council members voted 4-0 with Gilda Cordova stepping down because of a conflict of interest. She has an ownership interest in a local hotel and hotel management business.

Hotel operators said they supported the proposed tax hike if the new funds go toward public safety to help address their troubles with transients, vehicle thefts and other problems.

“Some of our guests that are from out of town have been confronted, and it’s pretty dangerous,” said Paul Patel, representing three hotels and noting that his family has been in the hospitality business in Lompoc for nearly 50 years. 

An increase directed to public safety would be a win for the businesses and community, one hotel manager said. 

“These funds are being paid by the visitors that are coming to our community, It’s not paid by the residents, Yet, it would be a benefit for us as well because my staff is constantly on edge because we don’t know what the day’s going to bring,” said Sylvia Lizarde, general manager at the Hilton Garden Inn

Lompoc’s TOT stands at 10% with a tourism business improvement district tax of 3%, which funds Explore Lompoc.

Santa Maria has a 10% TOT rate plus a 2% rate for the tourism marketing district, according to Mark van de Kamp, city public information manager.

Santa Barbara charges 12% TOT and $1 per occupied unit for the tourist organization amounting to 0.5%, Lompoc staff said.

In several San Luis Obispo County cities, the various rates assessed for hotel rooms add up to 13.5%.

The council agreed to direct the funds to public safety, with 65% going toward the Lompoc Police Department and 35% directed to the city’s Fire Department.

Asking if a 1% boost would be enough, Ball pointed out that the increase won’t fund the costs of a police officer or firefighter once split, but would provide “a small incremental improvement.”

“We’re not going to turn a big corner and fix all the crime issues and the nighttime issues that were mentioned with those funds,” Ball said. “That said, I’m OK with getting something. If that’s what the council agrees with, the 1%, that’s better than nothing. I’m totally OK with it.”

As a special tax, some two-thirds, or 66.7%, of voters would need to approve the measure this fall, City Attorney Jeff Malawy said. 

A general tax, which would not have specified a use for the new funds, would have required more than 50% voter approval.

Lompoc has received about $2.3 million annually in bed tax revenue, so a 1% hike would bring $230,000 more. 

However, the council agreed to reimburse hotel operators 2% of the credit card processing fees they pay to collect the TOT on the city’s behalf. 

Councilman Dirk Starbuck said the reimbursement likely won’t cover the full credit card processing fee paid by hotel operators.

“It seems equitable. It’s better than what it was before,” Starbuck said. 

The City Council is scheduled to approve a resolution in June to formally put the ballot measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.