Before being elected for a second straight time to the Lompoc City Council in 2014, Dirk Starbuck seemed confident that his new term would be his last.
Given some of the recent changes in Lompoc, particularly as it relates to the city’s administrative team and fiscal outlook, he had an apparent change of heart.
Starbuck will be back on the ballot Nov. 6 against challenger Robert Cuthbert in an effort to retain the City Council seat he’s held since 2010. With this being the first year of Lompoc’s district-based election process, Starbuck is running this time to represent the 3rd District, which encompasses much of the eastern portion of the city.
Starbuck pointed to the budget and this summer’s arrival of new City Manager Jim Throop as being among the primary reasons he decided to try to hold on to his seat.
“I’d like to be able to control our destiny here, down the road,” the 59-year-old Lompoc native said. “Throop is brand new and this is his first city manager job, and I’ve been here for a while and I can help him, I think, go through some of the priorities. I recognize what people in town want and what we need.”
While Starbuck acknowledged that there are a lot of big issues facing the city in the coming years, he said that “it’s always going to come back to what are we going to do with our budget.”
A self-described fiscal conservative, Starbuck said he stands behind his votes during last year’s budget process to not place three new tax measures on the ballot in an attempt to balance the city’s budget. While some in the city, including Cuthbert, have suggested that the option should have gone before voters, Starbuck said he feels the measures would have failed or led to long-term problems for the city.
The taxes that were proposed at the time by the previous city manager included a Transient Occupancy Tax, also known as a TOT or hotel tax, a sales tax and a utility tax.
Starbuck said the latter two options were not supportable given Lompoc’s demographics and economic situation. He suggested the hotel tax might have passed, since it wouldn’t necessarily cost city residents, but he said that several hotel owners told him they opposed it and that it would only lead to bus tours skipping Lompoc in favor of other more accessible locales like Goleta or Santa Maria.
“It would have had a long-term negative effect on Lompoc,” he said, noting that the city would have missed out on the commerce and resulting sales taxes from those tours in addition to the lost TOT revenue. “It would have been a short-sighted tax.”
Rather than look for new taxes, Starbuck said he was in favor of having City Hall run more efficiently within its means. He said that should include salaries to city employees.
“We’ve got some (administrators) who have made over $200,000 (annually),” he said. “And there’s some that are just touching $200,000. That’s half what the president of the United States makes. I don’t think it can be sustainable with the increases in pay that we’ve given out in recent times.”
Starbuck said he’d be in favor of working with city leaders to find ways to fill open positions in a more cost-effective manner. For instance, if an administrator earning $190,000 leaves the city, he suggested that maybe current city employees could fill in for certain tasks rather than having that position immediately refilled at that same salary level.
He pointed to the parks department, which has just six employees to manage the city’s 200 acres of parkland, as an example.
“We could hire three (people) for what we pay one of the department heads,” he said.
Starbuck, a U.S. Navy veteran and local business owner, also said he’s aware of the criticisms from some residents who feel like he and current Councilmen Jim Mosby and Victor Vega vote in a block on many issues. That perception, which has been pointed out by Cuthbert in this year’s campaign, is not exactly true, Starbuck said.
He noted that Mosby, who is running for mayor this year, is a longtime friend who shares similar values. Starbuck said that he and Mosby and Vega just happen to agree on certain issues and that there is no concerted effort to vote together.
Overall, Starbuck said he hopes his experience and his voting record — such as his support for safe-and-sane fireworks and his backing of the will of the people in regards to cannabis regulations — will be taken into account when 3rd District voters cast their ballots.
“I hope everybody does their research and goes out to review some of these things,” he said. “I’m an approachable guy. I am available at my shop and public input is really how the decisions are made.”