LOMPOC, Calif. - In just a matter of days, major cuts kick in for the city of Lompoc.
Monday night, the Lompoc City Council adopted a budget that makes over $3 million in spending cuts. That includes holding some 30 vacant positions and completely eliminating some city departments.
In addition to a continued staffing freeze for police, Lompoc’s 2019-2021 Budget eliminates a fire battalion chief and slashes around $600,000 in overtime.
As City Manager Jim Throop tries to find open vacancies for six city staff to transition to, he equates Lompoc’s new normal to one of the most challenging games of chess he’s played in his 34-year career.
“There are lots of chess pieces moving around and it’s going to have an impact on services and with some of these reductions with planning, if we have large projects come in, if the two planners can handle it that’s great if not, we’ll have to look at contract people to come out,” said Throop, Lompoc City Manager.
Throop says the city is facing a situation where services are in a reduction mode and Lompoc’s Fire Chief warned the council of what these cuts will mean to service and the loss of a dedicated fire marshal.
“Without that position, we’re putting the whole city in jeopardy,” said Gerald Kuras, Lompoc City Fire Department Chief.
Councilman Jim Mosby says he hasn’t seen the numbers to reflect that claim.
“They’re not all cuts they’re cuts in some of those are increases that we requested so, fortunately, we have more new revenue coming in every year so it’s not as horrific as it seems,” said Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby.
However, Lompoc Firefighters Union President Anthony Hudley paints a different picture.
“We are now bound by an overtime limit and if we hit that limit we’re going to have to ground out the rescue. What does that mean? They’re not going to be able to respond to calls. Typically, sometimes we have three calls that happen in a row, we only have two engines in this town so that call is going to have to wait, sitting in the queue and then once an engine is available then we’ll be able to respond so for those community members that will be that third car they’re gonna have to sit and wait,” said Lompoc Firefighters Local 1906 President Anthony Hudley.
The fire department’s overtime has been a source of contention for both Mosby and fire leadership.
“The main issue was the extra overtime component of $700,000 requested and last budget they were authorized $285,000. We authorized $350,000 so it was actually increased over last year‘s budget,” said Mosby.
“It’s a challenge when you’re limited below what your five-year average is. We’re going to have this conversation in a year and we’re going to be made to look like the bad guys.
Hudley says clarification is needed when addressing the issue.
“If we run to the limit of that overtime, then we have to staff the department. Do we have to call? What if it’s on a Saturday at 8:00 at night and we need to bring people in but the overtime budget is maxed out?” said Hudley.
A concerned community member sought that clarification from Mosby after Monday’s City Council Budget Workshop.
“From what I understand it sounds like they just wanted to express again that they make sure the community is their number one priority and the city employees as a whole, that we are the priority and then it became very heated and debating about numbers that are inaccurate that we’ve already discussed,” said Hudley.
You can see the men engaged in what onlookers described as a heated conversation in this cell phone video we obtained.
“He got my attention and he got the answers to why I did the actions that I did. So I don’t think there were any threats of anything that people think, it was more out of a passionate component that Pastor Bernie had,” said Mosby.
As Mosby credits the Senior Foursquare Church Pastor as being passionate, he says he’s passionate about the budget.
“I was answering his questions and a lot of times when people elevate their volume you elevate yours,” said Mosby. I walked away and he did follow me quite a ways and he wanted answers, so I felt it was best to give him the answers,” added Mosby.
Standing in front of a seismically unsound fire station, Hudley wants answers too.
“When it becomes elevated to a point where it’s becoming a disagreement, then that’s a concern because how do we move the city forward?” asked Hudley.
Mosby says these cuts are the smallest cuts in the last five to 10 budgets and they can make adjustments to the fire marshal position if need be.