Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby
Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby talks about Measure I, a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase on the March ballot to help boost city coffers. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A 1 percent sales tax proposal for the city of Lompoc has sparked duels and debates on social media about how voters should decide the city’s financial future.

A variety of people have created posts touting “Yes on Measure I 2020” or “No on Measure I 2020” while offering words of support or opposition for the March 3 ballot item.

If approved by city voters, the 1 percent sales tax proposal would push Lompoc’s sales tax to 8.75 percent, the same rate paid by shoppers in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.

Measure I needs the approval of more than 55 percent of voters to pass and includes a sunset clause calling for a 1 percent tax to end in 15 years.

The sales tax hike would generate nearly $5 million annually for Lompoc’s coffers, funding that would help cover costs for public safety, parks and other city services.

Like other cities in the state, Lompoc has seen a rising bill from the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, which cannot be avoided.

“This is a payment we have to make to CalPERS no matter what,” Mayor Jenelle Osborne said. 

Without the revenue from the sales tax hike, the city would struggle to maintain current services paid by General Fund money.

“It truly is to support and maintain our current services,” the mayor said, “and 80 percent of the General Fund is public safety — police and fire. This is going to police and fire, and that’s why it’s so critical.

“That check will go to CalPERS no matter what. We need to make sure the money is still there to provide at least what services are there now and, hopefully in a healthy shopping year, do additional extra things like improve parks, buy new equipment or improve infrastructure.”

Lompoc has tweaked its retirement system so that newer employees since 2011 share the burden by paying into the system. The city has no control over CalPERS, leaders have said.

Lompoc Fire Department rescue truck

The Lompoc Fire Department rescue truck with a crew of two responds to calls, providing extra personnel as needed for fire and medical incidents. If the city’s sales tax hike proposal isn’t approved by voters, use of the truck might be in jeopardy, according to Councilman Jim Mosby. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s nothing the city did. It’s a debt we have to pay,” Councilman Jim Mosby said of the pension obligation. “There’s no way out of it except to pay.”

During a Jan. 30 public meeting that he held at City Hall, Mosby surprised some local residents by announcing his support for the sales tax hike after years of voting against it.

The sales tax hike proposal came after the city undertook cost-cutting measures, led by Mosby, including eliminating positions, keeping some slots empty, deferring maintenance and service reductions.

He said a sales tax hike would be paid by tourists and nonresidents alike along with those who live within Lompoc’s boundaries. He told the crowd that without the additional revenue, a service such as the Lompoc Fire Department’s rescue truck could be in jeopardy. 

“We don’t want to let that go,” he said.

The fire rescue truck, with a crew of two, responds to assorted calls, helping boost the number of firefighters available during urgent situations to meet numbers under the National Fire Protection Association. Lompoc’s fire engines operate with three-person crews.

The rescue truck, deemed an essential apparatus in the department’s fleet for more than seven years, includes tools for calls involving fires, medical incidents and vehicle crashes.

Approval also would allow the Police Department to fill three slots kept empty amid the tight financial times, Mosby said.

To the anti-tax voters in the audience, Mosby said that the city has looked at taking advantage of the CalPERS program to pay off debt early to save millions of dollars. He has asked that the council look soon after the election at taking advantage of the CalPERS savings program. 

That program could allow the city to save between $43 million for 10 years and $21 million for a 15-year payoff, according to city staff.

“If we do this, here’s a win-win for you, which would also free up other funds and help us move foward,” Mosby said, likening it to paying off a credit card account.

Specifically, Measure I2020 asks: “To maintain and improve public services, including neighborhood police patrols, firefighter staffing, gang enforcement, crime and vandalism prevention, street improvements, community and recreational services, park upgrades, reduction of long-term liabilities (which includes a potential savings of $21 million in interest payments), and other general city services, shall the measure establishing an additional maximum 1 percent sales tax, ending in 15 years, and estimated to generate $4,800,000 annually, be adopted?”

Lompoc’s public agencies have encountered a lack of voter support in recent years for efforts to boost revenue. More than 10 years ago, voters rejected a public safety tax.

More recently, voters failed to approve the Lompoc Unified School District’s efforts to pass bond measure proposals for repairs at its campuses.

Voters in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria have approved sales tax hikes, while Guadalupe has taken steps toward putting measures before voters in November.

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.