By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg residents could be asked to tax themselves a little more, depending on the results of a community poll.
The City Council got an update Monday on ways to survey voters’ attitudes toward a possible half-percent increase in the city’s 9 percent sales tax.
“I’m not crazy about raising taxes in this climate. But we have to do something about our budget. It’s not sustainable,” Vice-Mayor Gary Plass said in an interview.
The poll could also measure voters’ willingness to raise or reallocate the city’s bed tax, which is paid by hotel guests.
The City Council is expected to set the parameters of the poll at its Nov. 7 meeting.
Seven consulting firms have submitted bids to conduct the poll, with costs ranging from $15,000 to $37,363.
The survey will likely try to ascertain which city services generate the most support and opposition.
Councilman Jim Wood said he is open to considering a sales tax hike, or tinkering with the bed tax, but it will depend on poll results.
“Who knows where we end up? Maybe it’s a combination, or we don’t do any of it,” he said in an interview.
City officials said previously the measure would not be placed on the ballot until June or November 2012.
Raising the sales tax to 9.5 percent would put Healdsburg on par with Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Cotati.
Another question is whether a ballot measure would only pay for specific things like road improvements, or go into the general fund, which primarily pays for police and fire services.
Mayor Tom Chambers said he is inclined to support a specific tax. Voters would know where the money is being spent, he said, and the tax could be set to end automatically. It would require approval from two-thirds of the city’s voters.
Plass said he is more inclined toward a general sales tax increase, which only requires a majority vote and would go to the general fund.
He said the general fund is looking at another projected deficit next year of $500,000 to $600,000.
“We have a responsibility to keep public safety as whole as we can, along with keeping water flowing and toilets flushing,” Plass said.
Council members also want to get an idea on whether the city’s 12 percent bed tax can be reallocated. Currently, 10 percent from the tax goes to park and recreation programs and 2 percent toward the general fund. But council members are weighing whether to ask voters to change the formula to help boost the general fund.
Council members acknowledged that voters will need to be assured the city is spending its money wisely. Plass noted that city employees are contributing more toward their retirement and health plans.
“I don’t see them (voters) coming forward and supporting this if we don’t show them we’re serious about reducing costs of government,” he said.