Saturday, April 4, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 5

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 4th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 1

Voters approve Lompoc sales tax increase

By Zac Ezzone

After putting the fiscal future of the city in the hands of its residents, Lompoc civic leaders lauded preliminary election results, which showed that voters approved a 1 percent sales tax increase for the city. The tax will generate an estimated $4.8 million in revenue annually while it’s in place over the next 15 years.

During the March 3 primary election, about 68 percent of voters approved raising the city’s sales tax rate to 8.75 percent. The measure only needs a simple majority, or more than 50 percent, to pass. As of March 4, more than 5,000 city residents had voted in the election, according to unofficial results from the county. If approved, the city’s new sales tax rate would be in line with Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, but below Carpinteria’s rate of 9 percent.

Lompoc City Council voted to place the tax measure on the ballot in September 2019 after months of contentious debate over the city’s 2019-21 biennial budget. In June 2019, Lompoc City Council approved a budget that included numerous cuts, such as the elimination of several staff positions, to cover the more than $3 million deficit.

According to the ballot language, the funding will be used to “maintain and improve public services.” But the first priority is paying off some of the city’s burgeoning pension debt, Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne said the day after the election.

“I’m really appreciative of the voters investing the time to understand the need and support the 1 percent sales tax as a solution to an ongoing need we’ve had for a while,” Osborne said.

The city owes $93 million to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), and its annual payment continues to increase, according to a presentation from a City Council meeting in August 2019. At the time, Lompoc Management Services Director Dean Albro said the city’s minimum annual payment will soon be $3 million, but it’ll eventually peak at $7 million.

Osborne said if the new rate is officially approved, after remaining ballots are counted, the increase would take effect in July. The city would then begin receiving the extra revenue in the fall. She said the City Council will discuss its options on paying down pension debt at a meeting in late March or early April.

Although most of the funding will go toward CalPERS, she said the majority of council members have previously discussed using some of the funding to fill three police officer positions that the city has held vacant over the last few years. Residents have advocated for the city to allocate more resources to public safety, following an increase in crime that’s taken place in Lompoc over the last year.

“The priority is to pay the pension debt, but we have to remember we’re living in the here and now,” Osborne said. “Those who voted for this wanted to see us improve public safety and city infrastructure.”

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