Although the Lompoc City Council once again stopped short of approving a new budget during Tuesday night’s special session, the group seemingly moved closer to approval than it has at any point during the past three-plus months of discussion.

A chunk of Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted about three hours, focused on the 26-page report that city staff provided to the council on Aug. 15 in response to a 12-point list of recommendations that was compiled by Councilman Jim Mosby and given to city staff last month. Using data from those responses, as well as other information from city staff, Mosby on Tuesday made a new set of cost-cutting suggestions that he asked to be implemented into the next version of the 2017-19 biennial draft budget.

Mosby’s motion passed with a 3-2 vote, getting support from Councilmen Victor Vega and Dirk Starbuck. Mosby’s requests, which would balance the budget by cutting about $1.88 million, are expected to be discussed further at the council’s next regular meeting on Sept. 5.

One of the key points in Mosby’s recommendation was that the plan would not cut any current city jobs, a topic that was at times contentious during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think that gives us minimal damage to employees,” Mosby said of his proposal.

He later added that he would recommend the council “push forward with finalization of these numbers and bring it back” for approval.

Among the components of the plan was about $375,000 in savings by reducing fuel costs and eliminating some internal services, and another $220,000 in estimated savings through voluntary employee furloughs, rather than closing City Hall every other week as suggested by staff in a prior presentation. An additional $207,000 would be saved by keeping the library at its current funding level rather than increasing it.

Further, about $750,000 would be removed from the budget by postponing the demolition of the old city pool building. City Manager Patrick Wiemiller noted, as he has in the past, that the pool demolition will be completed with bond funds that are specifically designated for that purpose.

Notably, the proposal did not include eliminating personnel.

Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne, who joined Mayor Bob Lingl in voting against Mosby’s recommendation, was most outspoken about making sure the council did not attempt to balance the budget by firing current employees. She said that doing so would send an “unfortunate message” and that just discussing it has already had a negative effect on employee morale and has caused some city workers to leave for other jobs.

At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, when employee positions were being discussed, Wiemiller reiterated to the council that his understanding of his job was that he is in charge of personnel decisions, not the council.

“It’s simply not gonna happen, and it can’t happen,” he said of making employee decisions at an open council meeting.

Councilman Vega questioned the legality of that statement and asked Wiemiller if he recognized the council as being the policymakers who provide direction to city staff.

“If we were to place this (employee moves) as a direction, as a directive, would you follow it?” he asked Wiemiller.

After a few seconds of silence, Vega said, “It sounds like you’re telling me you wouldn’t.”

Wiemiller responded by saying he wouldn’t answer the question, which led to the following exchange:

Vega: “It’s a direct question and I’d like an answer for it, sir.”

Wiemiller: “I’m sure you would.”

Later in the meeting, Mayor Lingl said he supported Wiemiller’s refusal to answer the question, noting that each function of the city’s leadership serves a different purpose.

Several other budget line items were discussed, some at greater length than others, during Tuesday’s meeting, which was the 12th in which the 2017-19 budget has been under deliberation.

One of those discussions centered on the city spending $180,000, or about 3 percent of its communications budget, on cellphones.

Mosby raised concerns about that cost and asked Wiemiller if the city could save money by switching to “simple flip phones” instead of smartphones. Wiemiller noted that certain apps could increase productivity and help in the field, but that the decision on phones ultimately comes down to whether the council wants to “modernize or not.”

The topic of tax measures was also back at the forefront.

Osborne said she felt like placing at least one new tax measure, a 1 cent sales tax, on the 2018 ballot would be a good solution to solving some of the city’s upcoming shortfalls.

Wiemiller, who proposed three new tax measures in his initial budget proposal on May 2, said Tuesday that he “still strongly” supported placing the tax measures on the ballot, and suggested that it was the most democratic way to gauge the community’s interest in maintaining certain services.

The council will be back in its chambers for another special meeting, this time dealing with marijuana regulations, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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