Tax initiative qualifies for November ballot

An initiative to eliminate a Huntington Beach property tax that pays for public safety employees' pensions has qualified for the November ballot.

The City Council voted Monday to adopt a resolution to place the measure on the ballot, and three council members — Connie Boardman, Keith Bohr and Joe Shaw — joined to write an argument against eliminating the levy.

The tax — $0.015 on every $100 of assessed property value — generates about $4.2 million a year. The money goes toward paying the benefits of public safety employees who were hired before 1978.

Mayor Don Hansen, a staunch critic of the public retirement system, has led the effort along with resident Frank Morrell, who began gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. Morrell, the author of the measure, is expected to write the argument in favor of eliminating the tax.

Arguments for and against are due by July 16. Both sides have 10 days after the arguments are due to write a rebuttal.

Hansen has said that eliminating the tax, which can be raised any time by a majority vote of the council, will force union groups to contribute more to their retirement. Although the tax can be raised by the council, the maximum is $0.0493 per $100 of assessed value.

But police and fire employee groups would not be obligated to pay more into their retirement program if the tax is eliminated, and the city stands to lose the money, opponents said.

Boardman said the city will remain responsible for its pension obligation and eliminating the tax will result in major cuts, including eliminating 11 positions in the police department and slashing several programs from the fire department.

Bohr said he was completely against eliminating the tax, which would leave the city worse off and not solve pension costs.

Hansen said this measure is about the homeowners.

"It's time to eliminate a revenue stream that the taxpayers have no say over," he said. "And that's what this measure is about."

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