By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Petaluma City Council Thursday night dropped a proposal to seek a sales tax increase in the November election.
At least four votes of the seven-member council were needed to direct the city attorney to return Aug. 6 with proposed ballot language for a tax hike the council had been considering for several weeks.
Tiffany Renee, Mike Healy and Chris Albertson wanted to proceed, while Mike Harris, Teresa Barrett and Mayor David Glass opposed moving forward.
“From discussions I’ve had with employee groups, there’s no support for this out there now,” he said.
This week, the police and fire department unions and the city’s other large employee group all expressed their opposition to what appeared to be the likely proposal: A half-cent increase to the existing 8 percent sales tax for a 5- to 8-year period.
In a written statement, the police union said it couldn’t support a general tax because the estimated $5 million in additional annual revenue would go into the general fund, which the council has free rein on how to spend.
The union said it wanted guarantees on how the money would be spent.
Healy acknowledged that a lack of trust between city employees and the council was troublesome.
“I would like the opportunity of one more week to work on that aspect,” he said.
Renee asked fellow council members to consider a special tax, earmarked for roads, public safety and social programs. But the idea didn’t garner any support.
Funds from a such a tax could only be spent on specific purposes identified on the ballot measure. A special tax requires a two-thirds majority to pass, considered a high bar. A general tax requires only a simple majority.
After three council members on Monday said they would oppose a tax hike, the city called a special meeting for Thursday night to determine whether to proceed with the legal expense of preparing a potential ballot measure to vote on Aug. 6.
Also, for charter cities like Petaluma, elections law involving local taxes may require a supermajority – five of seven members – to place a measure before voters, City Attorney Eric Danly advised the council Thursday.
A separate $52 annual parcel tax to raise money for Petaluma parks projects and maintenance already has qualified for the ballot.