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Petaluma council to weigh possible tax measures

By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Petaluma City Council members on Monday will discuss asking residents to increase two local taxes — the citywide sales tax and a tax on those visiting Petaluma in local hotels.

Faced with a continuing budget shrinkage, the seven-member council could vote to put either or both tax hikes on the November ballot.

The discussion follows several tax increases that Sonoma County voters approved on the June ballot and a Petaluma initiative seeking a new parcel tax to pay for Petaluma parks that just qualified for the ballot.

Two councilwomen have pushed for tax hikes after the council passed a budget in June that cut every department about 5 percent from last year. The city has reduced its general fund spending from $48 million in 2008 to $32.5 million this year.

In that time, the reserve fund has been exhausted and about six dozen positions purged from city rolls, mostly by elminating vacant positions.

Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee said the city needs at least a half-cent increase in the city sales tax, currently at 8 percent, among the lowest in the county.

Councilwoman Teresa Barrett has supported a 2 percentage point increase in the hotel occupancy tax, which is currently 10 percent. The county’s highest is 12 percent in Rohnert Park and Windsor.

Petaluma receives about $10 million annually in sales tax revenues and about $1.35 million from the hotel tax.

Increasing the sales tax rate by a half a percent would generate another $5 million a year. A quarter-cent increase would net about $2.5 million.

Raising Petaluma’s hotel tax by to 12 percent would bring in about $270,000 more a year and would increase Petaluma’s visitor tax equal to the highest in the county.

Council members have been lukewarm in the recent past to asking voters for more money, although the approval of several school bond measures in Sonoma County on the June ballot may show local voters are receptive to at least short-term taxes.

Of 11 jurisdictions statewide that had sales tax increases on the June ballot, only one was permanent — and only that measure failed, City Manager John Brown said. Of the ones with a “sunset clause,” eight were for 5 years or less, and all were for half-a-cent increases.

In Sonoma, voters approved a half-percent sales tax increase by a wide margin.

Of the 27 parcel taxes on the ballot in California, only 14 were successful.

If the Petaluma council agrees to seek a tax increase, it would have to determine if it should be a permanent tax or temporary and for how much, and if it should be a special-purpose tax or for general purposes.

A special tax, which earmarks monies for specific purposes, would require a simple majority of the council to place on the ballot and a two-thirds vote of the electorate.

A general tax with no specific purpose must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the council and a simple majority of the electorate.

Brown recommended that if the council proceeds with a tax, that it be for general purposes. He advised that a temporary tax would be more likely pass.

Councilman Gabe Kearney said he’s not convinced voters will be receptive, especially with at least two statewide tax increases also expected to be on the ballot.

“I think people expect to have BMW values and services on a Volkswagen budget,” he said.

“But it will be hard for people to handle that many measures. By the time you get down to (the parks parcel tax) and the city sales tax, people are probably not going to vote for it.”

The cost of placing a measure on the ballot may also factor into the council’s decision. One measure would cost as much as $31,000, two measures as much as $63,000. That money would come from the general fund and wasn’t previously budgeted.

(Contact Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)





9 Responses to “Petaluma council to weigh possible tax measures”

  1. J.R. Wirth says:

    Is that picture the seal of the Petaluma City Council? It look like the symbol of some 1960′s death cult. Did they get it from David Carradine’s estate sale? It looks ugly and dated. I guess it’s the perfect symbol for the Petaluma city council.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Dogs Rule says:

    Pension obligations come before basic services like roads, repair and street lights. Once that’s fixed – I’d be glad to pay more taxes.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  3. 20/20 Vision says:

    Around 80% of Petaluma’s budget is for fire and police services. You can whittle away at that remaining 20% all day long and never make any real headway.

    The only way that Petaluma can find budget success is to get rid of the overblown police and fire contracts with their bloated requirements for staffing, excesses in the high-ranks and unreal pensions. Then come up with real-world contracts that make sense.

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  4. Jim says:

    @Hesitant…

    Unfortunately no government, whether it be city, county, state or federal has EVER spent money where needed. NEVER.

    This is the problem. As ‘The Hammer’ said, the only way they’ll learn is to stop giving them money. You feed the stray cat once and it’ll return for more. You give a government a “temporary” tax and they’ll never let it go. You give them a special tax (e.g. a tax to widen the Novato Narrows, multiple times!) and they’ll find a way to use it elsewhere.

    A perfect example is the “CA Redemption” TAX. Yes, it is a TAX. You buy a soda a few years ago and you paid a $.05 pseudo tax per bottle. When the economy tanked people started recycling at a higher rate. The media learns that the pseudo tax money was being spent by the government on things it should be spent on. They NEEDED that money to function. What happened? They INCREASED the pseudo tax to $.10 per bottle. This way, with the higher number of recyclers out there, they’d still have the money they needed to steal from the program to pay for unnecessary government programs (i.e. salaries, pensions and bribes for votes)

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  5. Good luck says:

    The city already has a parcel tax measure on the November ballot no thanks to PFOR. The county will most likely have one and the state will have two. With this many tax increase measures most voters will simply select no all the way down the ballot. Count me in.

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  6. Kim says:

    They were called Democrats, then they didn’t like that lable so they changed that to Liberals…when that became a cumbersome lable they called themselves “Progressives”. Both Renee & Barrett are progressives. The lables have changed but the ‘ol tax and spend mantra still lives on! So do the socialistic ideas of these people called progressives who won’t be happy until we work for THEM. That includes those of the same ilk in the the state legislature and Congress.

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  7. Hesitant says:

    I might support a quarter cent sales tax. It must be a special tax and not a general tax. I want to make sure my tax dollars are spent where needed – not on salaries and pensions but helping the dire needs of the city – street, road, light repair to name a few.

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  8. Jim says:

    “Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee said the city needs at least a half-cent increase in the city sales tax, currently at 8 percent, among the lowest in the county”

    The city NEEDS more money? Of course. How else can Petaluma protect itself from the terrorists, right Tiffany?

    How about the city NEEDS to CUT the bloated pay and benefits of the bloated city offices?

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

  9. The Hammer says:

    The only way they will learn how to spend your money wisely is when you stop giving them tax increases, period.

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 1

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