LOMPOC, Calif. - In the wake of a suspected gang-related shooting that left a 17-year old babysitter dead, online forums in Lompoc have been buzzing about a law enforcement staffing shortfall.
Folks say there’s not enough officers and not enough pay and many in the community say this all circles back to the city’s finances.
But how do we fund public safety amid a looming budget shortfall?
“A 17-year-old girl full of promise, whose life was ended way too soon,” said Joe Mariani as he addressed a tearful room in City Hall Tuesday.
Just moments after being sworn-in as Lompoc’s new Police Chief, Mariani touched on the tragedy his officers encountered less than 24 hours prior.
“I saw members of our police department and fire department working diligently and tenaciously to conduct a thorough investigation in one of those situations that reflects the worst of humanity but at the same time it reflected the best,” said Chief Mariani.
It’s that commitment to protect and serve that reinforced Mariani’s desire to lead the force but he faces an uphill battle.
“We might lose some police now with Santa Maria doing more hiring. They have better salaries that might put us in a position we’re trying not to, we can’t compete with that,” said Jim Throop, Lompoc’s City Manager.
With $61 million initially requested, the last budget cycle allocated nearly $33 million to public safety.
Throop says the city is looking at a $5 million dollar deficit.
“We either need to cut more of the budget, which is inclusive of all because we’ve been making cuts for a number years now or look at some sort of revenue enhancement,” said Throop.
As city leaders prepare for their first goal setting session this weekend, it’s clear by the nearly 1,000 survey responses that funding law enforcement is a top priority for the community.
“The tough part is there isn’t a quick fix. Even if we were to go to a sales tax and do what Santa Maria is doing and put that on our next ballot our next ballot is not till 2020,” said Throop.
The Budget kickoff is open to the public, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning at City Hall.