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Lompoc City Councilman Dirk Starbuck, center, asks a question as Councilman Jim Mosby, left, and Mayor Jenelle Osborne listen during a budget workshop at City Hall on April 17. The council made significant progress in its budget discussions Tuesday night, but the direction faced a sharp rebuke from Osborne.

The Lompoc City Council took a significant step toward approving its next budget Tuesday night, but the progress was met with a sharp rebuke from the city’s mayor and some members of the public.

The City Council voted 3-2 to move forward with a version of the 2019-21 biennial budget that is heavy on cost reductions — including the suspension or elimination of several staff positions — and does not take into account any projected funds from a potential sales tax increase, which was initially proposed by City Manager Jim Throop in March as a way for the city to increase revenue.

Tuesday’s move was supported by Councilmen Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega. It was most vocally opposed by Mayor Jenelle Osborne, who continued to push for having a sales tax revenue line item included in the document as a way to both immediately balance the budget and stave off any layoffs.

“I ask you why you’d want to go ahead and see blood and see pink slips go out as of July 1 just to prove your point that you want to cut now,” Osborne said to her colleagues on the dais.

Displaying signs that carried messages such as “Votes Not Cuts” and “Services and Safety over Dictatorship and Bankruptcy,” dozens of Lompoc community members rallied in front of City Hall on Tuesday evening in an effort to get a sales tax increase put on a future ballot. The demonstration was held prior to Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lompoc City Council, and continued a debate that has carried on for parts of two years inside City Hall.

“It’s not visionary,” she later said of the path taken by the council majority. “It’s setting up a legacy of failure; it’s saying you have no will to respect the community, and I think better of you all.”

While the City Council was able to give city staffers key direction on developing a draft budget that will still need to be reviewed and approved at a future meeting, it was by no means a completed version.

The recommended direction was a combination of moves that staff presented to the City Council at the previous budget workshop on May 15. Despite the cuts, it still left the city facing a deficit of about $327,000, though city administrators said that shortfall could be covered with reserve funds.

Among the major aspects of the draft budget that was recommended with Tuesday’s vote (along with the projected cost savings, according to city staff):

  • Three police officer positions will be held vacant ($600,000);
  • Two code enforcement positions will be eliminated ($305,000);
  • The elimination of economic development, including the elimination of funds to the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce ($96,000);
  • The elimination of two planning positions ($356,000); and
  • The elimination of a fire battalion chief ($365,000).

The proposal also included cuts to parks and recreation positions, and a recommendation to transform the city’s public information officer position into a grant-writing job. That latter move was recommended as part of the ultimately successful motion made by Mosby, who said he believed having a grant writer could end up paying for itself.

Mosby, Starbuck and Vega each faced criticism from a majority of the 20 speakers who addressed the council, many of whom advocated for having a 1-cent sales tax increase put on a ballot to go before Lompoc voters. Some of the speakers also participated in the pro-tax measure rally that was staged ahead of the council’s May 7 meeting.

Still, all three councilmen continued to express a desire to balance the city’s budget on its own before having a later discussion about putting a tax measure before voters. All three seemed agreeable to having that tax conversation at some point, but throughout this year's budget hearings they have each also raised concerns with exactly how any new tax money will be spent.

“There is going to be repercussions,” Mosby said of raising the local sales tax. “The money is going to come from somewhere; it’s not going to just fall from the sky. We need to know what we’re doing with this money before we ask the public to pay.”

Osborne pushed to move forward with a version of the budget that featured no significant cuts or changes but with the additional sales tax projections included. Her proposal failed on a 2-3 vote, however, as it only garnered support from herself and Councilwoman Gilda Cordova.

City staffers, including the city attorney, confirmed that such an arrangement was legal, but they noted that it was also not without some risk.

Finance Director Dean Albro said that building the budget in that way could leave the city facing a $700,000 deficit if the tax measure is put on the ballot but not approved by voters. If it is approved, it could result in the city having a surplus of $500,000 to $600,000, he said.

Throop said that reserves would be used to cover the deficit if a tax measure were to go before voters and fail.

A significant portion of the city's financial woes stem from its obligation to CalPERS, the state's pension system, according to city staff.

It is expected that the council will discuss a specific date for that future tax discussion at its next regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 4. The council may also continue the budget conversation at that meeting or set another date for a budget-only workshop.

NOTE: This article was amended at 9:50 a.m. May 29 to remove the firefighter pay increases and certification pay from the list of recommended cuts, and to increase the city's projected deficit to $327,000 after the cuts.

The Lompoc City Council on Wednesday night inched closer to adopting a budget that could see significant staffing cuts, including some within public safety departments. During a lengthy — and at times contentious — public workshop, the City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to develop a draft of the 2019-21 biennial budget that includes several positions either left as unfilled or eliminated altogether and with no hypothetical revenue from a sales tax increase taken into account.

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

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Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base, for Lee Central Coast News. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.