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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on May 8th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 10

Lompoc's temporary tax: Should it be for a single purpose?

By RON FINK

Lompoc has a revenue problem that looks like it’s not going away anytime soon. Many are arguing that any proposed temporary sales tax to help alleviate the revenue problem should be for a specific purpose, so let’s try and figure out just what that purpose would be.

The City Council majority is currently standing by their misguided position that the problem can be solved by drastically cutting services. With only four council meetings remaining until the current budget period ends, it looks like we could be in for another lengthy delay caused by City Councilmember Jim Mosby and his fake facts.

First, I am an active member of a local taxpayer’s association, but I am speaking for myself in this commentary. You would think that I would oppose most taxes; well, you’re right unless I know what I am paying for.

A temporary 1 percent sales tax would generate more than is needed to overcome the current deficit; so, tying that tax to one specific item doesn’t seem logical when the budget shortfall is impacting the ability to provide all the services of the general fund.

So, say the council would OK a single purpose tax—what would it be?

When you buy a car, the single purpose is to purchase transportation. But there are numerous options and trim packages that could be included with the car or truck you chose.

In this case, the additional tax money is needed to accomplish many things, so the single purpose tax could be directed to “augment current revenue sources to support general fund services.” But, like buying a car or truck I would want to know what the options are, and they should be clearly spelled out in the ballot language.

Of course, the first option, more akin to standard equipment, would be to pay down the CalPERS debt. The lion’s share of any revenue collected, say 50 percent, should be dedicated to this purpose and the rest for other options.

The CalPERS “contributions” seem to be the big donkey in the room that’s creating the revenue shortfall. Over the years, the fund hasn’t been managed to generate income as much as it has been used by the governing board to make politically correct investments. This board is made up of political appointees selected by politicians, and we all know which political party controls the state of California.

Most of the speakers at public meetings have been strong supporters of the police and fire departments, so one option would be to establish minimum staffing levels for each department consistent with the levels originally approved by the council in the 2017-19 budget.

Part of the public safety option must be replacement of aged rolling stock. The entire fleet of fire and police vehicles is approaching the end of their useful life and will soon become a liability to the safe delivery of those services.

Replacing, modernizing, and/or expanding fire stations and the police station should be included. Fire station 1, the headquarters, has been evaluated by engineering and is subject to partial or full collapse during a seismic event. Not only could firefighters be injured or killed, but who would respond to assist the rest of the community if the station collapses and fire equipment becomes unusable and first responders disabled?

Fire station 2 was built as a “temporary station” more than 30 years ago. It needs to be moved to a more centralized location and enlarged to meet today’s service needs.

The police department needs more space. Some evidence requires special handling such as weapons, ammunition, DNA samples, and other items that may deteriorate if not stored in temperature/humidity-controlled environments.

The emergency operation center and dispatcher’s area needs some serious upgrades to meet the current and future service needs.

Although it hasn’t been discussed at length, the library and parks and recreation programs must be funded at a level that provides the community with adequate service. This includes replacing deteriorated park equipment, major renovations at several parks, keeping the library open six days a week, offering youth programs, and properly maintaining those facilities.

Why should voters demand specifics such as these in any tax proposal? Well, it might surprise you, but if there isn’t any clarity in that ballot language, then some future council could change the priorities for spending and defeat the purpose of this tax.

As you can see, there are a lot of options that must be included in the “single purpose tax.” As a taxpayer advocate, I could support this tax if the ballot language clearly defined spending priorities, a citizens oversight committee was created to monitor expenditures, and it included a defined end date with no option to extend it.

If at a future date, the people determined that the tax should be extended, then another ballot measure would have to be put to the people as it was recently in Santa Maria.

But first, the Lompoc City Council, specifically three council members, need to allow voters in Lompoc to make the choice. So far, they haven’t listened to scores of citizens who have simply asked for the right to vote. μ

Ron Fink writes from Lompoc. Send comments through the editor at clanham@santamariasun.com or write a letter for publication and email it to letters@santamariasun.com.




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