Over the last few months there has been a large amount of dissent over the Lompoc city budget. To me it felt like a conflict between bill-paying adults and happy-go-lucky teenagers.
Anyone who has children will remember how the kids never understood when you told them debit cards were not free money. My kids thought all I had to do was stick the card in the slot and voila, out came free money. As an adult we knew you had to live within your means, or your family would soon be on the street.
The core of the budget challenges facing Lompoc is the over-$80 million debt the city owes to California CalPers to pay for Lompoc city employees’ retirement benefits. About $40 million of that is going to come from the General Fund and the rest will be picked up by Lompoc ratepayers — water, waste water and electric rates.
Whether or not you feel this is fair, it is a debt that has to be paid. Once that is understood, the budget fight in Lompoc boils down to one of two choices: Either spend money counting on a yet-unapproved tax increase, or balance the budget first and then see if a tax passes to pay the debt.
What made all of this worse is that the vocal tax-and-spend folks threw childish tantrums because adults on the dais would not give them their way. They got belligerent and yelled derogatory names and spouted claims that the Police and Fire Departments would be cut.
The trouble with these statements is that the facts do not support such claims.
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Over the last year the current vacancies in the General Fund budget totaled 28 positions. The new budget asks for only 19.25 positions to be held vacant. This is an increase of over eight positions that may now be filled.
In addition, in the course of a normal year there are around 15 position vacancies due to retirements and people leaving. This means only about four or five vacancies are being held above the normal.
Also, public safety — fire fighters and police — are projected to spend about $16 million this year. The budget that passed last week has designated well over $17.8 million for the Police Department and Fire Department. This is an increase of over a million dollars.
Finally, the entire General Fund expenditures in 2018-19 are projected to be $35.8 million, which is about $ 2 million over 2017-18, and the budget that passed is over $36 million and provides a stable base for us to place a sales tax increase on the ballot and see if it actually passes.
Only in America would an increase in government spending be seen as a cut. Thank goodness there are still a few adults on the Lompoc City Council to ensure that our city can pay its bills.