The city of Lompoc will reconsider its recent decision to sever ties with Santa Barbara County for animal control services, and will continue to look at ways to cut from within, according to direction given Monday night by the Lompoc City Council.
The council held a special budget-only meeting Monday to continue its prolonged discussion of the 2017-19 biennial draft budget. As in the previous six meetings in which the budget has been discussed — a list that includes four regular meetings and two prior budget-only meetings — there was no universal agreement on the particulars of the oft-adjusted budget document, but the council did make more progress than in the past.
The two-and-a-half hour meeting concluded with the council agreeing to schedule another special meeting, solely for budget talks, for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 13. The next regular meeting of the council is slated for Tuesday, July 18.
One of the major topics of discussion Monday was the council’s split decision at its June 20 meeting to consider looking at alternatives beyond the county for animal control services. At that regular meeting, the group voted 3-2, with Mayor Bob Lingl and Councilman Jim Mosby dissenting, to renew the animal services agreement with Santa Barbara County, which costs the city about $25,000 per month, for just one month and to explore outside options when that contract expires.
A crowd of a few dozen people, many of whom said they worked or volunteered in the animal services field, brought the council chambers to near capacity on Monday night to show opposition to that June 20 decision. Ten of the audience members, including some Santa Barbara County administrators, voiced their specific displeasure with the animal services vote.
Jan Glick, the director of animal services for Santa Barbara County, listed many of the services offered by the county and posed a direct question to the council.
“How will the city be able to stand up an animal shelter in a little over a month?” she asked.
The June 20 vote was put before the council in response to the council’s June 8 decision to extend its budget deadline from June 30 to Aug. 31. With the city’s animal services contract set to expire on June 30, city staff recommended the council extend that agreement until the end of August or until a new budget is adopted.
After Monday’s discussion of the overall budget, it appears as though the council will move toward keeping that animal services contract with Santa Barbara County after all, as well as other agreements — at least temporarily.
Much of the conversation Monday centered on recommendations made by Mosby and Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne.
Mosby had previously asked city staff to come back with numbers that showed cuts of 4-percent, 5-percent and 6-percent to the city’s general fund, and he continued in that direction Monday. Rather than decide to place three new taxes on the 2018 ballot, which was suggested by City Manager Patrick Wiemiller in his initial budget presentation on May 2, Mosby said that the city-provided numbers that were presented on June 20 showed that cuts within the city can lead to enough savings to balance current and future budgets.
Indeed, in the numbers provided by city staff on June 20, an across-the-board cut of 6-percent, not including salaries, would result in the city saving more than $2 million per year over the next decade. Mosby brought up several city departments that have grown over the past four years and suggested to Wiemiller that he look at cutting those departments back, or at least close, to the levels they were at in 2013, even if that involves reducing positions or salaries.
“I know it’s difficult getting to the position we are, but we’ve got to make some tough cuts,” Mosby said.
Osborne suggested that the city look at hiring freezes and voluntary furloughs as ways to cut costs.
Additionally, she said the city should continue providing funding to nonprofit agencies — something that was cut out of the initial draft budget — but only temporarily for many of them.
She said that some outside funding should be maintained with agencies that have particular relationships with the city. Among those funding recipients she said she’d like to see remain was the North County Rape Crisis Center, which provides a victim’s advocate position within the Lompoc Police Department, and the Lompoc Museum.
Other agencies, like the Lompoc Chamber of Commerce, she said should be given one year to seek alternatives with the knowledge that city funding may not return after that.
Wiemiller said he’d have documents prepared for the July 13 meeting that included all those recommendations.
Monday’s discussion began with Mayor Lingl making a recommendation to adopt the budget as it was initially presented in May. He said that residents should be given the choice to decide on the potential taxes — a half-cent sales tax, a 2-percent increase in hotel bed taxes and a 6 percent tax on utilities — and that he’d recommend the city develop alternate budgets in the event that the taxes prove unsuccessful on the 2018 ballot.
Some members of the council, including Mosby and Dirk Starbuck, said they didn’t think it was appropriate to claim a budget is balanced when it has assumptions of tax revenue that may not ever exist.
Lingl's motion never received a second and died on the floor.
As in previous meetings, there was also discussion of the city’s reported $70 million obligation to the California Public Employees' Retirement System, or CalPERS.
On Monday, Starbuck referenced a ruling in the Stockton bankruptcy case and asked the city’s legal team to explore the true ramifications of what would happen if Lompoc were to not pay that full obligation.
In a related discussion, Wiemiller pointed out that he is involved in trying to reform that $70 million figure handed down by the CalPERS board.
“We are actively working, more than just trying to resolve how to pay what they say we owe, but we are actively taking action to try to challenge the amounts based upon assumptions that are being made,” he said, referring to himself and other city managers on the Central Coast.
The July 13 meeting will be held in the council chambers at Lompoc City Hall, 100 Civic Center Plaza.