WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma puts sales tax hike on ballot



Sonoma’s City Council on Monday night unanimously agreed to put a proposed sales tax increase on the June 5 ballot on an emergency basis to stem the city’s loss of redevelopment funds.

City leaders said the tax increase is needed to avoid potentially severe cuts in services ranging from graffiti abatement to public safety.

“We are doing this because we are in uncertain times, and we are bleeding,” Councilman Tom Rouse said.

Sonoma’s sales tax now is 8 percent, lower than several other Sonoma County cities, including Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol. If voters approve the proposal, Sonoma’s sales tax would rise to 8.5 percent.

The half-percentage-point increase is equal to 50 cents for every $100 spent in Sonoma and would generate an estimated $1.07 million annually for the city’s general fund.

There has been no local tax increase of any kind in Sonoma since 1992, when the city’s transit occupancy tax was raised to 10 percent.

The initiative is in response to the loss of the city’s redevelopment agency after the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown last June dissolved such agencies statewide as a cost-savings measure.

City Manager Linda Kelly told council members that Sonoma has relied on redevelopment funds for nearly 30 years and their loss has reordered the city’s economic model “basically overnight.”

How much redevelopment money the city ultimately is out is still being sorted out. Kelly estimated the city’s reserves are being drawn down by $85,000 a month since Feb. 1 as a result of the change.

She estimated the deficit could grow as large as $1.7 million annually, which represents 10 to 15 percent of the city’s annual general fund budget. Those estimates include $800,000 that the city has spent annually on street maintenance using redevelopment funds.

Monday’s council debate centered less on the size of the proposed tax increase and more on when to put the measure before voters and how long to keep the tax in place.

John Kelly, a Sonoma lawyer, told the council it should wait until the November election to avoid the appearance of rushing the issue.

“We’ve seen with redevelopment that it’s the rush that causes all the problems,” Kelly said.

But Councilman Steve Barbose said waiting until November could be a “disaster” for the city, partly because he said the city probably would be competing with statewide tax measures.

If the tax increase is approved by voters, it would remain in place for five years.

The June vote is estimated to cost $20,000 to $32,000, paid out of the city’s general fund.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.

13 Responses to “Sonoma puts sales tax hike on ballot”

  1. Graeme Wellington says:

    Sonoma contracted with the Sheriff’s office for police in 2004. That’s what the complainers wanted. How are those big pension cost savings working out for Sonoma?

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  2. David Stubblebine says:

    Somehow a story about a half-percent sales tax in Sonoma got reduced to solely being about pensions. Some posters will beat any drum that comes along so they change the tune to their liking.

    MoneyGrubber’s first post ends with an outright lie. The almost funny part is that his false statement could have been made into a true statement by adding one word: SOME “public employees are allowed to retire 17 years before” others can apply for social security. Most public employees cannot.

    MoneyGrubber’s most recent post (3/7/2012 5:04PM) perpetuates his slanted opinion that public pensions are somehow evil. The reason the CalPERS rate adjustment will increase the employers’ pension burden is two-fold: 1) The rate goes up because the employers, not the unions, signed the CalPERS contracts with the variable rate structure. 2) The employers will have difficulty paying the higher rate because they spent the pension money they saved in the 1980’s when their variable rate went to zero, contrary to the advice CalPERS gave at the time.

    As for Bear’s ridiculous rantings, I will not post my resume here because it is un-American to require that we first prove ourselves worthy before we can have an opinion.

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  3. Money Grubber says:

    California’s largest public pension fund is REQUIRING more of our tax money to keep operating. Google the story.

    “”CalPERS will consider cutting its investment forecast next week, a move that would likely force the state and local governments to pump more money into the big pension fund.”"

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  4. GAJ says:

    Oops, my post should have read we put the maximum into our IRA’s as we didn’t have access to a 401k for 20 years until we started one for our employees, (we matched the maximum allowable by law under our plan, up to 4% of pay…if the government had allowed us to match more we would have).

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  5. GAJ says:

    Bear, why don’t you supply us with your credentials?

    I went to school at night and worked f/t during the day to get my MBA…my future wife and I started putting the maximum into our 401k’s when we were 21.

    Owned our own business for 25 years had hundreds of employees in Marin/Sonoma, went through the normal boom/near bankruptcy cycles common to business and sold when I saw the writing on the wall in March of ’07.

    Landlords were being increasingly unreasonable with their rent demands, (they assumed the bubble would never burst), our business was in a boom cycle, I could see a Democrat would get into the White House and assumed that would mean mandatory health coverage for all employees which I knew would bankrupt us.

    In tough times the first place cut was with me and my partners and many many times our senior managers were paid more than we were because cutting at the direct customer interface is just plain stupid. We often had to watch our bank balance on a daily basis during tough times but we always paid our bills early to ensure we got prompt payment discounts. Never stiffed a supplier.

    So sold and retired at 52 after decades of being on call 24/7/365.

    Have lived frugally my whole life so our planning starting in our early 20′s when we were poor paid off.

    If I get SS great, but if not, no worries; I’ll be fine without that entitlement.

    Does that “qualify” me in your eyes to have an opinion?

    Your turn.

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  6. Got You Covered says:

    What kind of job did you do Bear?

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  7. bear says:

    Nobody will answer my questions.

    Are you employed? Do you have any education or experience that backs up your rants, which I consider poisonous.

    Are you unemployed? Are you a real estate or trust fund baby? Do you pay the taxes you owe?

    And a new one: are you willing to clean city streets to avoid paying existing taxes?

    I don’t require detail, just general answers.

    Answers or more BS?

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  8. Missy says:

    FFS, this board is INSANE. TAX TAX TAX while the county has an 11% unemployment PROBLEM and tons of foreclosures! JUST SAY NO!

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  9. Harry Callahan says:

    The Sonoma sales tax hike is headed in the same direction as the now fish colony known as the Titanic and for the same reasons. The captain disregarded the danger of ice, or debt and spending in the case of Sonoma, and went down.

    One wonders if the Titanic captain was a progressive too?

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  10. Graeme Wellington says:

    The tax measure is a distraction from the real problem. Sonoma does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. The amount of the tax and estimated revenue is arbitrary and thus more political than anything else. It’s the easy political thing to do – call for more taxes.

    Why can’t our political leaders balance a budget on the massive amounts of money they already take in?

    Like Petaluma, Sonoma lacks any kind of actual leadership. We see proof of this daily on a variety of issues.

    Spending in Sonoma should be limited to a responsible level for necessary functions. Asking for a tax increase when there is no possibility or even a plan to reform is just legalized theft.

    Ultimately our political leadership mirrors the values of the people. If the people think it is okay to overspend, then that’s what they will do. If we demand our public servants serve us with responsible fiscal management, then they will.

    We will get the government we deserve. It’s up to you. And this applies to every city in Sonoma County.

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  11. David J. Spencer says:

    Well, now we see what redevelopment was really all about; a way to fund projects that otherwise would’ve required voter approval in an election. Now the voting process, where 2/3 of the electorate must agree to a tax increase, can no longer be circumvented.

    Personally, I trust the judgement of the electorate.

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  12. Dan Drummond says:

    The link between escalating public employee pension costs and diminished public services should be pretty obvious to all. The only way the legislative reforms necessary to enable public pension reform will ever be enacted is if enough pressure is brought to bear on our elected officials. Certainly we shouldn’t expect them to act absent such pressure. All these sales tax, parcel tax and bond measures do is relieve the pressure. No need to address thorny pension reform if you can convince the public to keep paying more. Why deal with today’s problems today when we can hand them off to our children tomorrow.

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  13. Money Grubber says:

    Vote NO.

    They can pay for their UNDER-funded public pensions with existing tax money.

    Were it not for the criminally excessive public pensions, local governments would not be in the financial chaos that they are.

    Stockton, CA, is entering bankruptcy right now because of its public pensions.

    When you hear the LIE about government “services,” just remember government public pensions.

    Just remember that public employees are allowed to retire 17 years before you can even apply for social security.

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