Local Politics

Santa Maria funding public safety jobs as Lompoc prepares to make cuts

A tale of two cities

Santa Maria uses sales tax to fund additional public safety jobs as Lompoc prepares to make cuts

LOMPOC, Calif - Santa Maria and Lompoc may be just 30 minutes apart but to some, its funding plans for public safety, city jobs and looming Calpers debt, feels worlds apart. 

Despite being more than $3 million in the red, the Lompoc City Council majority have long maintained that officials need to balance the budget before bringing a sales tax into the mix. 

However, for those pushing for the opportunity to vote on the issue, what just happened in Santa Maria will likely be brought up at the next budget workshop as an example, fueling pressing questions.

The Lompoc City Council just received a finalized copy of the draft 2019-2021 Biennial Budget on Tuesday and City Manager Jim Throop is hopeful that this upcoming Monday, officials will be able to move on with an adopted version and have a discussion on sales tax.

"If we can do what Santa Maria did, finalize that, that would be great to get it on a ballot at some point in the near future and it will hopefully solve some of our issues," said Throop. 

Throop admits that it's challenging to hear that the Santa Maria City Council just added 57 new jobs, with close to 30 in the public safety sector, all thanks to a voter-passed sales tax initiative.

"The community wanted improved public safety, improved quality of life and improved services for the youth and Measure U is allowing us to do that," said Jason Stilwell, Santa Maria City Manager. 

Lompoc Councilman Jim Mosby wasn't available to go on camera but tells us that Santa Maria's population is growing at a rate of 3% annually, and they need to be adding jobs to reflect that. He says Lompoc's population is the same as it was 20 years ago. 

"It's making it difficult to recruit. We have other agencies for police, public safety, that are doing signing bonuses or adjust their starting base pay is higher than our top pay but it's not just public safety, it's other areas in the city and it's making it very difficult for us to attract the talent that we need to make sure the city is operating in the most efficient manner," said Throop. 

Officials with the Lompoc Firefighters Union says the City Fire Department has hired 29 people for three positions over the last five years and every time they onboard a new firefighter it costs somewhere between $20,000-30,000 dollars.

The budget backed by Jim Mosby, Victor Vega, and Dirk Starbuck makes cuts to the Lompoc Fire Department. The proposed plan calls for the elimination of a battalion chief and $700,000 of overtime. 

Lompoc's proposed budget holds three vacant police officer positions but Mosby highlights a $1.3 million dollar increase in expenses to the Police Department.

"A number of it goes to the retirement benefits that we have to pay, some of it is to equipment that was purchased and then the maintenance contracts that are going to be there. If you step back from that number, were there any additional services added? No, we're still at the same amount of police," said Throop. Throop says that officer number still sits at 44 with three positions held, with 47 being a full fleet. 

Lompoc's Mayor Jenelle Osborne released a statement to us reading in part quote "Lompoc isn't growing because we aren't investing in ourselves but Santa Maria is."

"Our issue right now is that we've been holding a number of them vacant right now just because of our revenue streams, most of it is the [Cal] Pers issue that's coming up, the retirement issue, so that's been the battle that we're trying to get across," said Throop. 

Stilwell says in order for Calpers to strengthen its financial position, they're requiring more contributions from the state's 458 cities, with incremental increases over the next five years with the full impact hitting in 2024. 

Mosby says as cannabis revenues come in, "we anticipate being able to fill those positions."

Throop says the budget has a conservative amount already built into it from the city's two newly-launched marijuana businesses.

"There's no history, no trend that we can build off of yet so to me it would behoove us to be a little more cautious and then see how it goes six months, eight months from now, when we have some kind of history behind it," said Throop.

Lompoc's City Manager does point out that despite the at times heated debate that has surrounded this budget process, he's noticed a lot of community involvement,

"We had a lot of public participation which is more than we've had in the past doing that has brought everyone together even though there have been some different viewpoints, I think at this point it's brought the city together," said Throop.

He hopes to see that participation continues at what could be one of the City's last Budget Workshops. 

The Lompoc community is encouraged to take part in a City of Lompoc Budget Workshop on Monday, June 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lompoc City Council Chamber.


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