By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sebastopol City Council broached the subject of seeking a new half-cent sales tax Tuesday, at the same time it gave tentative approval to a $5 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The council unanimously passed the budget, which will come back at the council’s June 19 meeting for final approval.
The city’s tax rate is now 8.25 percent.
The budget is balanced without having to dip into reserves, said former city manager Jack Griffin, who presented the budget package even though he has left Sebastopol to be city manager in San Marcos.
Griffin said expenses are meeting revenues only because of stretched staffing and because city employees are working 90 percent of regular time to save salary costs.
City Attorney Larry McLaughlin, for instance, will be the interim city manager until the end of the year and also acts as the director of finance, a post that is vacant.
The city also has 13 sworn police officers, the lowest number it has had since 1986.
“The budget is balanced, but it is not a positive thing,” said Vice Mayor Michael Kyes. “We are barely scraping by.”
Kyes proposed increasing Sebastopol’s sales tax by a half cent, which would raise $1 million a year to help fund such things as road maintenance and the Ives Park renovation.
“The only way to get the city back is to increase the sales tax, and the window is very tight,” Kyes said.
Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer opposes a tax increase, especially while the council is still considering increasing sewer and water rates to meet budget shortfalls and fund improvements.
The council approved putting the tax increase issue up for discussion at the next council meeting June 5.
The tax would be in addition to a special quarter-cent sales tax that was passed by voters in 2004. It raises about $500,000 a year for capital improvement projects.