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City Approves Senior Exemption, Inflation Terms For Proposed Parcel Tax

May 04, 2022 03:23PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Volunteer signature gatherers speak with a resident outside Gelson's in Manhattan Beach.

Volunteer signature gatherers for Measure A speak with a resident outside Gelson's in Manhattan Beach in February.

Update 1: The Manhattan Beach Unified School District approved the MOU by a unanimous vote on Wednesday night. 

Update 2: Councilmember Suzanne Hadley confirmed that she is a "no" on the MOU but not on Measure A.

The Manhattan Beach City Council has approved the administration process for senior citizen exemptions and inflation caps on Measure A, the proposed parcel tax that will appear on the June 7 ballot.

The council on Tuesday night approved by a vote of 3-2 a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) on Measure A. The purpose of the MOU is to define the process by which the city and the Manhattan Beach Unified School District will administer the parcel tax, if passed.

Councilmembers Joe Franklin and Suzanne Hadley were the two "no" votes on the MOU. 

According to Measure A proponent and Manhattan Beach resident Michael Sinclair, the city is required to define certain aspects of the implementation and administration of this citizen-led measure. The initiative language was drafted specifically to allow the city maximum flexibility and discretion in terms of how to create a process that it deemed most efficient, fiscally prudent and appropriate, he said. (Current Measure MB was able to set those terms without city approval because the measure was initiated by the school district, and not citizens.)

Most notably, the MOU served to confirm two points around Measure A, an assurance that senior citizens will only have to register once for an exemption, and an inflation cap.

The MOU affirmed that that once a taxpayer has qualified for an exemption (such as being age 65 and over, receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, or receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits), that taxpayer will need to apply only once. They will not have to re-apply for an exemption unless they become ineligible, as could be the case with persons on disability at the time of an exemption.

MBUSD has been delegated to manage exemption applications, as it does now for Measure MB (expiring in 2024), and will coordinate with the city regarding eligibility for exemptions.

Through the MOU, the city also elected to set the annual inflation adjustment rate at the lesser of CPI or no more than 5%. (There is no annual inflation adjustment the first year.)  The determination of the annual adjustment rate, with or without a cap, is an obligation of the city and in its full discretion.

Furthermore, the MOU stipulated that if Measure A passes, MBUSD will reimburse all costs incurred by the city in connection with the June 7 special election on Measure A.

On Tuesday, the council heard a number of comments from those on both sides of Measure A, although most comments were addressing the merits of the measure (which voters will have a chance to vote on in June) rather than the MOU.

Senior Citizens To Receive Automatic Renewal

As confirmed in the MOU, senior citizens and others who are eligible for exemptions will apply once for their exemption, and from then on their exemptions will be automatically renewed.

Sinclair noted that the initiative language stating that approved exemptions “must be renewed annually,” does not refer to the taxpayer, but rather to the city’s obligation to renew these exemptions consistent with current state law. (California Government Code 50079(d) states that once a taxpayer has qualified for an exemption, that taxpayer will not have to re-apply for an exemption unless the taxpayer becomes ineligible.)

The initiative language was intentionally broad to allow the city full discretion in terms of how it would like to administer the exemption process, said Sinclair.  In this case, city leaders chose to utilize the existing MBUSD exemption process established for Measure MB in 2018.  

This portion of the measure has been widely misinterpreted on social media to imply that the drafters expected seniors to reapply every year.

Nevertheless, with the city's approval of the MOU, it is confirmed that seniors and others with exemptions need only apply once.

"The city ultimately chose to work with MBUSD to capitalize on the best practices of the system that is already in place, and to avoid additional costs and city staff resources that would otherwise be required to build out an entirely new exemption process from scratch.  It’s a smart fiscal move by the city to not reinvent the wheel," said Sinclair. "That [exemption] process has been in place since 2018, it works, and seniors know how to use it and trust it." 

Eligible seniors will need to file a one-time exemption form either online, by mail, or in person.


Measure A Reflects Years of Work on School Funding

Measure A is a citizen-led initiative to create a parcel tax with revenue dedicated to school funding. The measure is an outgrowth of decades of efforts by Manhattan Beach parents, educators, business, and community leaders attempting to address inadequacies in state K-12 funding through fundraising and working with legislators in Sacramento.

Many of those who have worked most intimately on school funding in Manhattan Beach have concluded that a parcel tax measure that keeps funding within Manhattan Beach will be the only way to protect and maintain high-quality education in the local public schools. 

If approved, Measure A would authorize a $1,095 annual parcel tax for a term of 12 years. $1,095 would be the amount required – as defined by the state – to bring MBUSD per-student funding up to the state average.

The 12-year time frame was chosen because it is the length of time in which MBUSD is projected to reach the threshold to become a Basic Aid district, according to campaign organizers. A Basic Aid district is one whose local property taxes meet or exceed its revenue limit. Basic aid districts are self-sustaining and receive little state funding, because the revenue from local property taxes exceeds what they would receive under the Local Control Funding Formula that governs all California education spending. Measure A is intended to be the bridge to Basic Aid for MBUSD and the last education parcel tax required for adequate funding in Manhattan Beach.

MB Citizens for Schools collected more than 4,000 signatures from Manhattan Beach residents to have Measure A placed on the June 7 ballot.

In March, City Council members voted 5-0 to place the measure on the June ballot.

Tuesday night's 3-2 vote reflected no votes from both Franklin and Hadley.

Franklin said that while he and his family had supported Manhattan Beach schools for years, he was opposed to Measure A because of the total amount of money and lack of specificity in how the funds would be used.

Hadley clarified to MB News after the meeting: "I am not a 'No' on A. I voted 'No' on the MOU because it’s sloppy and leaves the city open to litigation."

If passed, Measure A will take effect on July 1.

Editor's note: MB News Publisher Dave Fratello is one of the signers of the official ballot argument in favor of Measure A. Editor Jeanne Fratello is a 13-year Manhattan Beach PTA member who has made multiple trips to Sacramento to advocate for funding for Manhattan Beach public schools.

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