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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on May 22nd, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 12 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 12

Public pressure in Lompoc changes some council members' minds

By RON FINK

Last Wednesday, May 15, the Lompoc City Council had another budget workshop; they have had four of them so far, but the only work that gets done is when the staff tells them once again that they don’t have enough revenue to run the city effectively.

At the last meeting, the city manager and his staff spelled out the worst-case scenario, but some council members apparently didn’t get it, and so this time the staff was tasked with providing another set of alternatives for a draft budget. The choices included some drastic staff cuts in public safety, and other services were hit as well with funding losses.

This meeting was considerably more tense than those of the past; it began when the fire chief, visibly upset at the prospect of losing a critical asset, attempted to explain what the impact would be. Some council members reacted defensively, claiming that “nobody asked for across-the-board cuts” and that “firefighters did a wonderful job without the rescue crew.” The latter is patently false.

Cutting the fire department budget will cause the fire chief to “brown out”—take out of service—the rescue crew for most of the year. A nationwide metric requires that fire departments respond to 90 percent of emergency medical service calls within 60 seconds; in fiscal year 2018-19, the Lompoc fire department only achieved that goal 56 percent of the time.

Not having a rescue crew will further lower performance for this metric, thus placing citizens at an increased risk. As cuts to staffing were becoming evident, the chief quipped, “We’ll get there when we can and do the best we can.”

At one point, the mayor had to admonish one council member who tried to speak when another member had the floor. He then objected to being “lectured to” by the mayor. Apparently, he has never read, or at the least he doesn’t understand, Robert’s Rules of Order, which explain how meetings are managed.

The same council member complained for several minutes that it was taking too long to get to the bottom line, as the staff responded to other council members’ concerns and discussed a potential sales tax increase, about which he said “three councilmen had earlier rejected.”

I guess he forgot that in the last meeting, he and the others had agreed to allow individual council members to make information requests to the city manager that would be addressed during this meeting. Then, he went on to take several minutes asking questions about the information he had just complained about, specifically the tax increase.

Councilmember Jim Mosby seemed concerned that a few cents increase in taxes would be a hardship on consumers. Well, minimum wage increases, much higher gas prices, and many other added costs have caused all consumer goods to rise, and it hasn’t seemed to stop the consumption of goods.

The reason a local sales tax makes sense is that of the current 7.75 percent sales tax, only 1 percent remains in Lompoc; the state and county siphon off the rest. All of a 1 percent additional local sales tax would remain in the city.

As the discussion continued, once again Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck, and Victor Vega all contended that they had never agreed to cutting public safety. But at the end of the meeting, Mosby made a motion, which Vega seconded, to choose options that would result in a severe cut to the fire department budget and keep police staffing below the 47 officers needed to effectively maintain order in the community.

Maybe they don’t think that they are cutting public safety, but they all agreed to do just that!

As part of this motion, Mosby wanted to agendize a discussion about a potential tax in August. Councilmember Starbuck objected, saying he wanted to discuss it much sooner, and eventually they agreed to talk about it on May 28. Kudos to Starbuck for his concern.

A representative of the hotel industry said that his group was willing to place a 1 percent Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) increase on the ballot if it was dedicated to public safety. This is an important concession, since the hotel industry usually opposes TOT increases.

The management services director has asked for direction in each meeting so that he can proceed with budget preparation. He said that it would take at least two months to prepare the document.

All he got was a motion, which passed 5-0, for yet another workshop on May 28 along with a discussion about the language for a sales tax measure. For these three council members to suddenly change course was a surprise to council watchers, and hopefully they will follow through, put the measure on the ballot, and publicly support it.

It took a speaker during public comment to point out that they were going to miss the June 30 deadline for a new budget, and they had better have a resolution ready at the next meeting to extend the current budget until the next one is ready for council action.

One cut they haven’t discussed is the council members’ monthly stipend and medical and retirement benefits. They volunteered for this job. I would suggest that since they have once again missed an important deadline, they haven’t earned a nickel.

So, at least in this case, public pressures in Lompoc changed some council members’ minds. 

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




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