By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.