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Treasurer hopefuls, tax foes square off at second forum

by Robb Fulcher

Incumbent City Treasurer John Workman stressed his investment background while challenger Bob Benz pledged to continue the activism he brought to the city council, as the two squared off at the second public forum for candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The forum last Wednesday, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Beach Cities, Women's Club of Hermosa Beach and Kiwanis Club of Hermosa Beach, marked the public's first chance to watch the candidates for treasurer go face-to-face. It also marked the first formal meeting of proponents and opponents of Measure D, which would abolish the city's 6 percent utility users' tax.

"I've been your treasurer for the past six years. I am the only candidate qualified to be your city treasurer," Workman told a large gathering inside the Clark Building on Valley Drive.

"The biggest part of my job is investing the surplus money that comes in. That is my deal. I love to do that," " he said.

Workman said he "continually" strives to update his education, attending seminars and other events at his own expense, forgoing the option of charging the city for airline flights and hotel rooms.

"Every morning I talk on the phone to an investment broker," he said.

Benz, an eight-year councilman, said he would take an activist role as treasurer.

"When I first came to the council there wasn't mismanagement in Hermosa Beach, there was no management," he said, citing questions over the use of police department "flash money" for drug busts under the administration of the former police chief.

"More importantly there were single bids, single bidders on projects out there," Benz said.

"I realize I stirred up a lot of passion with my stance, but the main thing I'm doing in my run for city treasurer is making sure the city retains its solvency" and "creating an independent voice for the city to rely on," Benz said.

"I will be an activist for where we get most of our revenues, and 75 percent of that comes from businesses," he said.

Anti-oil drilling activist Rosamond Fogg, whose name appears on the ballot although she has dropped from the treasurer's race, addressed the forum to throw her support to Workman.

"When the treasury race became a three-way race I had some hard thinking to do," she said. "...We need a reliable, dependable, non-political city treasurer."

Council candidate Donley Falkenstien, who spearheaded Measure D's inclusion on the ballot, said, "If this measure is passed, the government will never be able to take money from you again in Hermosa Beach. If they want your money they'll have to ask you for it."

Falkenstien said the city's budget has grown 25 percent over the last four years.

"Without revenue restraint there will be no spending restraint," he said.

Falkenstien said that the city has a $1 million budget surplus.

"The money's there. The city has it in different funds," Falkenstien said.

City Finance Director Viki Copeland, in a brief interview, said the city has no such reserve, and she did not know what Falkenstien was referring to.

"The city existed for 80 years without a utility tax, and it can survive very well for the future, at least for another 80 years," Falkenstien said.

Some form of a city utility users' tax has been in effect for the past 14 years.

Councilman JR Reviczky, a leading opponent of Measure D, said the utility users' tax makes up 14 percent of the city's unrestricted general fund, and by council resolution is restricted in its uses to "capital improvement projects and public safety."

"Make no mistake about it, loss of the [tax] revenues would reduce city services, particularly police, fire and paramedics," Reviczky said. Those services account for 60 percent of the general fund spending and would face "the greatest impact," he said.

"Storm drains, sewers and street repairs also would be greatly impacted," Reviczky said.

"In 1989 the city had 166 full-time employees, today we have 134," Reviczky said. Quality of life is affected by the quality of city services. A clean, safe environment is why most of us live here."

Reviczky said the city has no budget surplus, and the utility users' tax costs the average Hermosa household about $10 a month. ER

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