As Lompoc continues to deal with a budget crisis that could soon have the city operating at a deficit, a group of residents is planning a demonstration that it hopes will catch the attention of policymakers.
A nonpartisan “Give Us the Vote” rally has been planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, in front of Lompoc City Hall. The rally, which will take place ahead of that night’s regular 6:30 p.m. meeting of the Lompoc City Council, is aimed at encouraging City Council members to place a 1% sales tax increase on a future ballot, a move that has been recommended by city staff as a way to generate revenue and help balance the city's budget.
In a mass email sent Thursday night, Lompoc resident Lorraine Waldau encouraged community members to join the demonstration.
The city of Lompoc’s budget discussions kicked off in earnest Wednesday night as city department heads detailed the ways in which cuts could negatively impact the community, and at least one City Council member called for slashing the salaries of city administrators. Wednesday’s workshop was the City Council’s first full meeting dedicated solely to the city’s 2019-21 biennial budget, which is facing a deficit projected at nearly $4 million. Community members filled the council chambers for the four-hour meeting, which ended in an impasse with council members giving direction for staff to compile further data to present at a future budget meeting.
“The health of Lompoc affects us all,” she wrote in the message. “Can we afford to cut fire, police and other services? For those who don’t live in town and don’t vote in City Council elections, remember that your property values and services also depend on a healthy robust Lompoc. Share widely and come out to support the 1% tax increase.”
A potential sales tax increase has divided some segments of the Lompoc community as far back as 2017.
During budget discussions two years ago, then-City Manager Patrick Wiemiller first proposed a half-cent sales tax increase, along with two other tax hikes, as a way to bring in additional revenue as the city faced looming deficits brought on in large part by the city's unfunded liability to CalPERS, the state’s pension system.
That 2017 proposal by Wiemiller was ultimately shot down by Councilmen Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega.
Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne delivered a sobering State of the City presentation Thursday afternoon that emphasized several of the challenges — particularly those related to projected budget shortfalls — that the city is already dealing with or will be navigating in the near future. Before concluding, however, she assured her audience of mostly business and civic leaders that the tone wasn’t meant to be somber.
Current City Manager Jim Throop reintroduced the idea of a 1% sales tax increase on March 19 as part of this year’s discussions of the 2019-21 biennial budget. Mosby, Starbuck and Vega have continued to raise concerns about introducing new taxes, however, and they used their majority at that March 19 meting to direct city staff to develop a draft budget that does not take into account any potential new taxes and that instead considered cuts.
During an ensuing budget workshop on April 17, city department heads presented a budget with across-the-board cuts and suggested that several services would be greatly reduced or eliminated entirely with no additional revenue.
Speakers at recent City Council meetings have advocated for putting the tax measure before voters, while some have commended the council majority for looking at other ways to balance the budget aside from taxing community members.
If the 1% sales tax were to pass, city staff has projected it would generate about $4.9 million per year. City administrators have said that the tax would not be applied to groceries, prescription medications, rents or mortgages.
Among those on the dais, Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne has been the most vocally supportive of placing the tax measure on the ballot. She used much of her State of the City address on April 4 to advocate for the move, suggesting that it could aid in solving the city's budget crisis, which she referred to as the "elephant in the room."
“The elephant isn’t going to move on its own; frustration and anger won’t eliminate it,” she said during that presentation. “Being proactive can reduce its impact on our quality of life.”
Lompoc leaders presented a gloomy outlook regarding the city’s finances during an informal budget workshop Saturday morning that also featured…
No budget item was included on the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council session, so it is unclear how much, if at all, the issue will be discussed during the open meeting.
While people who attend the pre-meeting rally are encouraged to bring signs, organizers are asking that no sticks be used to hold up those signs.
The Lompoc Valley Democratic Club has provided its offices for meeting and sign-making spaces, but the organization is not sponsoring the rally.
Waldau concluded her email by encouraging would-be attendees to remain respectful.
“Please keep this a positive rally — keep the message to what we want to happen to help balance the budget,” she wrote.