Lompoc City Council members unanimously declared a state of fiscal emergency on June 1. The move allowed the city to call an Aug. 31 mail-in-only ballot proposal for a proposed new tax structure on the community’s cannabis manufacturing and distribution businesses.

“I know this is a difficult topic and I think that it is what’s in the best interest for as many (as possible) in the community. And even (as) one of those who did move forward on regulating and legalizing cannabis and taxing it, owning where we made a misstep and correcting that is really important as we move forward, so thank you for that,” Mayor Jenelle Osborne said in thanking council members for what she called respectful discussion, negotiation and compromise.

If approved by voters, a graduated tax would be imposed on marijuana distribution and manufacturing companies in the city of Lompoc at the rate of one half percent for businesses with annual revenues of $10 million or less, 1% for revenues from $10 million to $25 million, 1.5% for revenues from $25 million to $40 million, 2% on revenues from $40 million to $55 million, and 2.5% for revenues of $55 million or more.

The ballot measure also would base that tax off sales alone, not sales plus state taxes collected. In addition, it would allow for such taxes to be shown on sales receipts.

Osborne said the scale would keep Lompoc competitively below Santa Barbara County’s own tax structure for the sector while giving new businesses the opportunity to ramp up before being hit with a larger tax. She also reminded those present that the tax is borne not by the business but by the purchasers of the goods that are distributed throughout the state.

“In effect, we’ll improve our community by all of those purchasing products manufactured and distributed in our little community,” Osborne said.

Councilman Dirk Starbuck immediately took exception to calling a fiscal emergency days before the council had an opportunity to view the budget.

“We have a budget meeting on Thursday, but we’re willing to declare a fiscal emergency prior to reviewing the budget, so maybe we should start there,” Starbuck said.

City Manager Jim Throop explained the city would have to declare a fiscal emergency to call for a ballot measure any time before the next regular election in November 2022. In addition, to be accepted for a less costly mail-in-only election, the council would have to agree unanimously on the declaration.

Councilman Jeremy Ball and Councilwoman Gilda Cordova said it was clear, even without looking at budget line items, that the city is struggling.

“Budget or no budget, we definitely are in a fiscal emergency. We, as a city, even post-COVID/coming out of COVID, we don’t even have a recovery plan for this community as to how we are going to get ourselves back on track,” Cordova said.

Ball also noted long-term budget shortfalls in the city that have led to reduced services.

“If they Google ‘Lompoc,’ they’ll see headlines talking about high rates of crime and other problems here. As a business owner, that would detract me from being interested in moving somewhere, so from my perspective, with all respect, I honestly think we’re in an emergency. I’m still hearing gunshots several times a week. I’m still hearing about issues where we cannot come up with a solid answer for our community, so from my perspective, it’s pretty clear we’re in an emergency,” Ball said.

Several citizens on hand spoke in favor of the tax, with only one speaking against the proposal in person, and one calling in.

“As was stated earlier, our public safety is in the toilet,” said Lompoc resident Terry Doughtny. “I had my property broken into, I called the police, and nobody showed up.There was nobody available to come help me. There’s shootings; there’s all kinds of stuff happening. We need a police force and we can’t afford it with our current budget. The dispensaries won’t be any good. Nobody's going to come here to get shot. We need the tax to help with our city budget. We need public safety. Please, if the City Council can’t agree to this, please let the voters decide. We're tired of having a crime-ridden city. It’s time to start funding this place and make it what it could be, what it was, what we want it to be.”

Series: Lompoc City Council

Read this collection of stories on Lompoc City Council from the past year. Read all of our coverage of local government in Vandenberg Village and the Lompoc Valley on LompocRecord.com.