By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The decision to place a sales tax increase on the November ballot in Petaluma rests in the hands of four City Council members after three others declared their opposition to it Monday night.
For different reasons, Mike Harris, Teresa Barrett and Mayor David Glass all said they would not support an increase to Petaluma’s 8 percent sales tax rate this fall.
Tiffany Renee, Mike Healy and Chris Albertson said they would support a general tax measure, while Gabe Kearney said he personally supports a tax hike but doesn’t think the community will vote for it.
Formal wording on a potential ballot measure — and whether it should be for a quarter cent or half cent and for how many years — will return for council action on Aug. 6, the final meeting before the deadline to include items in the November election.
Healy, who commissioned a poll that he said showed 68 percent of the community supported a half-percentage-point, eight-year, general-purpose tax, said he was “not really feeling the love out there right now” for a tax hike.
Renee created an online poll on the issue but said she “doesn’t put a lot of stock in the results,” which so far show 72 percent of respondents support a specific tax over a general tax. A small majority of those favoring a tax, 51 percent, said they preferred a quarter-cent increase versus a half cent.
A half-cent tax would provide an estimated $5 million annually, twice as much as a quarter-cent increase. A general tax would need a simple majority to pass, while a special tax — one with clearly identified beneficiaries — would require a two-thirds majority.
Proceeds from a general purpose tax would go into the general fund, the budget that funds most city services, salaries and benefits. The council would have broad discretion over how to spend the money, with no guarantee to voters about exactly which programs or services would be funded.
Barrett said she didn’t like a short-term tax that would pay for salaries, nor one that isn’t specific in what it would fund.
Glass was adamant that he won’t vote to place a measure on the ballot now, in part because it would compete with a $52 annual parcel tax already on the ballot that is earmarked for parks and recreation facilities.
“This is the wrong tax at the wrong time, for me,” he said.
Council members and city staff members have been gathering public feedback since last month in an effort to clarify the community’s position. Healy, Kearney and Renee said they would like more community input before the next meeting.
A it were to pass, a half-cent increase would make Petaluma’s city sales tax 8.5 percent, which would equal the rates in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sonoma. Cloverdale and Windsor’s sales tax rates are 8 percent, the lowest in the county.
Sebastopol’s is 8.25 percent, but voters will be asked in November to increase that to 8.75 percent. Healdsburg voters will decide on a half-percentage point increase in November.
Potential voters in Renee’s poll appeared to feel most strongly in favor of potential tax proceeds being earmarked for street paving, pothole repair, park, streetlight and storm-water maintenance and river dredging. There was also support, though less, for programs for the poor and elderly, public safety and streamlining the city planning process.
Those responding also expressed strong opposition for a permanent special tax — on top of a short-term general tax — that would pay for street and other repairs.
Renee’s survey can be taken at https://petalumasurvey2012.questionpro.com.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.