Removing city support of communitywide events, eliminating funding for school crossing guards and closing City Hall every other Friday were among the components of the latest draft budget presented Wednesday night to the Lompoc City Council and recommended by city staff.
City Manager Patrick Wiemiller presented the new 2017-19 biennial draft budget, along with a new recommendation from the city, during Wednesday’s special budget-only gathering, which was the fourth special meeting and eighth overall meeting at which the budget has been discussed. The roughly two-and-a-half hour session, which was at times contentious, concluded with the council taking no vote on the new proposal, as the members seemingly wanted more time to review the information.
The next regular meeting of the Lompoc City Council is slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Wiemiller’s latest proposal was made in response to direction he was given by the council June 26. At that time, the council requested a balanced budget that did not take into account any new tax measures — Wiemiller’s initial proposal, made on May 2, called for a half-cent sales tax, a 2 percent increase in hotel bed taxes and a 6 percent tax on utilities to be placed on the 2018 ballot — while also restoring funding to a handful of outside agencies and making across-the-board general fund cuts of 4 percent.
Wiemiller achieved those directives with a pair of proposals that featured general-fund cuts that amounted to either nearly $2.9 million or $1.9 million, depending on how the council wanted to proceed. Still, several people — including both council and audience members — took exception to how those cuts were reached.
City Councilman Jim Mosby, who initially suggested the idea of making the across-the-board cuts, expressed dismay at the fact that most of the cuts were to public services, rather than staffing, and said he felt like his comments at all the previous meetings went unheard.
“This isn’t tightening the belt at City Hall,” Mosby said. “This reduces benefits that directly affect the public. … We’re not doing anything to tighten City Hall.”
Councilman Dirk Starbuck expressed similar concerns noting that “the one thing I don’t see on here are any cuts in our government.”
“All we’re asking is to take away from the people that are here,” he added.
Wiemiller expressed disappointment at some of those criticisms and asked the councilmen to go line item by line item and point out where they thought more cuts could be made. He then defended the proposals, which he said took a lot of “heartfelt” hard work.
Wiemiller’s first proposal showed cuts of $2.85 million, which was needed to achieve that target of 4 percent reductions.
Among the major cuts in the proposal was $262,000 saved by eliminating city support for community events, such as the Flower Festival; $241,000 saved by closing City Hall for a day every other week and offering voluntary furloughs to staff members; $210,000 saved in reduced fuel costs; and $93,000 saved by removing a crossing guard grant to Lompoc Unified School District.
The Lompoc Fire Department was also heavily affected in that larger reduction plan, with $200,000 cut in overtime costs, and nearly $780,000 saved by temporarily phasing out fire rescue.
In Wiemiller’s second proposal, which was his recommended course of action, the Fire Department funds were restored, leading to a total of $1.87 million in cuts. The cuts at that level, he said, would provide a balanced budget that would leave the city $4,677 in the black.
Wiemiller continued to advocate for including the three tax measures on the November 2018 ballot — he referred to his proposals on Wednesday as initially being a “Plan B” in case the taxes failed — but for the first time he altered his recommendation regarding the taxes. Sensing that the majority of the council was more agreeable to the increased sales tax than the other two, he suggested the council consider exploring a 1-cent sales tax, rather than a half-cent, and having that tax set in place for a specific period of 15 years or so.
The most contentious aspect of the new proposals among the members of the audience was the elimination of the school crossing guard funding.
A handful of speakers who identified as parents advocated for keeping the funding and suggested that a price shouldn’t be put on the lives of school children.
Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne, who offered a few tweaks to the revised budget proposals, suggested that the crossing guard situation was an LUSD problem and that, perhaps, groups of parents could organize to volunteer their time to provide the service.
Mayor Bob Lingl opened Wednesday's meeting by sharing his thoughts on late Lompoc teen Noah Scott, whose funeral was held Wednesday morning, and proclaiming that Scott would have wanted the city and the council to come together and compromise. He said he was dedicating his time at Wednesday's meeting to Scott's memory.
Wednesday’s discussion wrapped up with the council seemingly in agreement that more time to review the proposals would be beneficial. The council has until Aug. 31 to adopt its budget, thanks to a unanimous vote it made last month to give itself two extra months when it seemed unlikely that a decision would be reached by the initial June 30 deadline.
“This is such a hard decision that as much as I’d love to finish this discussion and put us on a sure foot of where we’re going with the budget, I’d like a chance to examine this a little bit and see if there isn’t a place or two that we might be able to accommodate,” Osborne said, noting that she’d like to see funding for community events restored.
“I’d like a chance to look at (things like) that so that I’m more comfortable with it,” she added.
Earlier in Wednesday’s meeting, the council voted to extend its animal services agreement with Santa Barbara County for one year at a cost of $296,857, or $24,738 per month.
That decision came after several animal advocates were displeased with the council’s decision last month to extend the agreement with the county for just one month and to explore outside options for the services.
On Wednesday, city staff confirmed that it is still exploring outside contracts for animal services and will continue to weigh its options over the next 12 months while the new county agreement is in place.