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Voters to decide on retiree benefits

CARLSBAD — City Council members voted 4-1 on July 27 in approval of a charter amendment to this November’s ballot allowing voters to weigh in on increasing retirement benefits for safety employees.
With the exception of Councilman Keith Blackburn, council approved the amendment that will give voters the power to bar future benefit increases without approval by the public. City leaders will not need voter approval to further decrease benefits.
“Four of us will be supporting the ballot issue and Mr. Blackburn will be giving his concerns on why he opposes it,” Mayor Bud Lewis said.
Blackburn, who has repeatedly voted against reducing safety employee benefits, has an opportunity to submit his concerns for inclusion in November’s ballot pamphlet.
Earlier this year, Carlsbad was in the spotlight when it unveiled a plan to reduce retirement benefits for future firefighters, police officers and other safety employees.
The city is one of the first in the region to implement a “2 percent at 50” system, instead of the current “3 percent at 50” formula.
Under the current system, safety employees that retire at age 50 will receive 3 percent of their highest yearly salary multiplied by the number of years they have worked. The new formula will give employees 2 percent of the average pay from their final three years with the city, again multiplied by the number of years worked.
The new pension plan will only affect new safety employees hired on or after Oct. 4. As mandated by state law, current employees will still receive the benefits they were originally offered.
As a former Carlsbad police officer, councilman Blackburn has consistently voted against measures to reduce safety employment benefits. He has voiced his concerns that if Carlsbad offers less than surrounding cities, it will no longer attract the best of the best.
“I strongly think that going to the second tier
retirement system is a
big mistake,” he said at a previous council meeting. “We’re going to build the most mediocre group of safety personnel that this county has to offer.”
While unions have also voiced their disapproval of the benefit decreases, local taxpayer advocate groups have applauded the council for passing a fiscally conservative measure in times of economic uncertainty.
“We’d like to commend the council for your efforts in regards to pension reform,” Chris Cate said on behalf of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “Without a doubt, the city of Carlsbad has been a regional leader in implementing reforms that will essentially save taxpayer dollars.”