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Petaluma wary of tax measure



Petaluma City Council members on Monday expressed support for seeking an increase in the sales tax but first want to see if city employees, civic groups and the community would support a November ballot measure on it.

Informal polling will occur within the next three weeks, with council members and City Manager John Brown reporting their findings at the July 16 meeting. A ballot measure must be approved by Aug. 6 for the election.

Most council members said they would vote to place a tax measure on the ballot but questioned how much of an increase voters might support, how long a potential tax should be in place and whether any tax would pass.

The sales tax question was thornier for the council than that of increasing the city’s transient occupancy tax, commonly called the hotel tax.

Faced with opposition Monday from hotel, inn and campground owners — virtually every sector of Petaluma’s lodging industry — council members quickly rejected the idea of adding 2 percent to the 10 percent hotel tax.

Raising Petaluma’s hotel tax to 12 percent would bring in about $270,000 more a year.

Petaluma receives about $10 million annually from the state in sales tax revenue. Increasing the existing 8 percent sales tax rate by a half a percentage point would generate an additional $5 million a year. A quarter-percentage-point increase would net half that.

Earlier this month, Sonoma voters approved a five-year, half-a-percentage-point sales tax increase by a wide margin.

But Petaluma council members weren’t so convinced their voters would follow suit.

Gabe Kearney was “apprehensive” about pushing it. Teresa Barrett said a sales tax is her “least favorite” levy. Mike Healy said voters are “mad at government.” Chris Albertson said they may be “tilting at windmills.” Mike Harris said residents are “hurting out there.”

Mayor David Glass was reluctant to support another ballot measure that would compete with a recently qualified parcel tax to fund city parks. Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee said a quarter-percentage-point tax hike would provide a “drop in the bucket” toward the city’s financial needs.

Department heads presented a list of $117 million worth of projects or programs they could restore with extra funds, some one-time needs and some annual commitments.

Responding to a drop in sales- and property-tax revenues, Petaluma has cut its general fund spending from $48 million in 2008 to $32.5 million this year.

The council appeared to support seeking a general tax, one with no specific purpose but with identified priorities. Such a tax must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the council and a simple majority of voters.

A specific tax would need majority council approval and two-thirds approval by voters.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

3 Responses to “Petaluma wary of tax measure”

  1. BigDogatPlay says:

    Good work by the council to completely side step the issue and study putting it in front of the voters.

    I’ve said it before…. raise the sales tax and/or TOT without accompanying, meaningful cuts in programs that the city has no business funding and anyone who votes in favor will be recalled or voted out at the next election. Raising taxes will push that many more people and businesses away.

    Open the books to the last penny to a truly representative and multi-partisan citizen commission or start figuring out ways to make do with what you have.

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  2. Dan Drummond says:

    I attended Monday’s council meeting and was struck by a couple of things.

    First, while discussing the various tax options available, no mention was made of the new police contract that will in all likelihood be approved next month. With a $37 million unfunded pension liability and almost threefold increase in pension costs over the past nine years, it’s quite incredible that not a single concession was exacted from the current employees. No reductions in pay and no changes to pension or health benefit contributions. Yes, there is a two-tier plan, but that has no effect on the current employees. So I guess it’s OK to ask the residents to pony up more, but heaven forbid that the employees who benefit from the unsustainable pension system should kick in a dime. So much for the notion of shared sacrifice.

    Second, council was given in advance of the meeting a “wish list” compiled by department heads consisting of $117 million in needed funds for items ranging from replacement of outdated fire engines, to storm water runoff system, to social safety net programs, to road and pothole repair. Depending on the level of sales tax increase pursued, the city would net somewhere between $2.5 million and $5 million in new revenue. Rather than any considered analysis of which of those $117 million worth of items were of greater importance than others, the council elected to poll voters to see what they would support. It seems that funding priorities are not made based on genuine need of the city, but rather on polling data. Reminds me of the old saw that defines leadership as the art of figuring out where the public is headed and then getting out in front of the pack and yelling, “follow me!”

    But credit is also due. Mike Harris flatly declared his opposition to any new taxes noting correctly that many Petaluma families are suffering and should not be forced to bear an even greater burden for the city’s fiscal mismanagement.

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  3. Follower says:

    Don’t be ridiculous.

    OF COURSE the sheeple will support higher taxes!

    “Earlier this month, Sonoma voters approved a five-year, half-a-percentage-point sales tax increase by a wide margin.”

    Petalemmings will vote for higher taxes & re-elect the people who invented the need for higher taxes, just like the Slownomans did.

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