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.
“This is not a doom and gloom moment; this is a reality check,” she said. “This is an opportunity.”
Osborne was the featured speaker at the annual address, which was organized by the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and held in the main ballroom at the Dick DeWees Community and Senior Center.
Osborne went over some of the city’s successes of 2018 — though she noted that those came “despite the limited resources” — but spent much of her presentation focused on the issues that lie ahead as the City Council is set this month to dive into the 2019-21 biennial budget, which was described by Osborne 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. “Being proactive can reduce its impact on our quality of life.”
Although the first full budget meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 17, the council set some preliminary parameters at its March 19 meeting when it asked city staff to prepare a draft budget without consideration of a potential 1% sales tax increase that had been proposed by City Manager Jim Throop.
That decision to exclude the potential tax measure was made via a split 3-2 vote, with Osborne and Councilwoman Gilda Cordova on the losing end. Although Osborne did not explicitly state support for a sales tax increase during her presentation Thursday, she made a point to stress the importance of finding ways to increase revenue and noted that Lompoc only fully receives 1% of the revenue generated in the city with its current 7.75% sales tax.
“It’s difficult to see that change,” she said of having the city reap more benefits of tax revenue, “if we don’t invest in ourselves first, because others will not want to invest in us if they don’t see a viable community willing to do that work.”
Osborne also pointed to the city’s unfunded liability to CalPERS, the state’s pension program. Those costs are projected to amount to $4 million over the 2019-21 budget cycle, and the obligation is expected to increase over the next 14 years — or seven budget cycles — before any projected reductions.
Osborne rejected the notion that the city can climb out of its financial hole by simply cutting costs.
Even if the city closed its libraries, shut down all the parks and eliminated the recreation division, she said the $3.2 million in anticipated savings still wouldn’t cover that CalPERS obligation, but would significantly diminish quality of life.
She also pointed to a recent survey and goal-setting workshop through which many residents expressed a desire to see improved public safety efforts in the city. Even if cuts were not made to what Osborne described as already understaffed public safety departments, she said those departments would still experience the ill effects of losing support staff in areas like human resources and finance, as examples.
“It is up to you, the residents and business owners, to decide if Lompoc will continue to see itself as a poor community unable to improve or move forward,” she said, as part of a plea for residents to get more involved in city affairs by attending and speaking at City Council and budget meetings.
“Or do we want to be more?” she continued. “Do we want to do better for ourselves, our neighborhoods, and especially our children? Are we willing to invest in Lompoc, take pride in our community [and] shoot for the stars? I want you to be a part of this conversation.”
Osborne was introduced at the meeting by Throop, who noted that the Lompoc community has been “extremely welcoming” since he took over as the city’s top employee last June.
In a short statement, Throop said that he was working to figure out “how to make [the city’s] challenges into successes.”
“I know if I can get everyone in this room — the business owners, citizens, city staff, anyone else you can think of — [on the same page] we’ll be very successful,” he said. “The city is going to be a shining jewel on the Central Coast very soon.”
Osborne, who encouraged residents to “be an advocate for Lompoc’s future,” also wrapped up her presentation with a similar appeal.
“Let’s honestly look at how we can invest in each other, invest in our community and we [can] all rise and improve and be a better community and have [people] wanting to not just visit, but to move, stay, live and work here,” she said.