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Rohnert Park sales tax extension faces little opposition

By JEREMY HAY

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In a thus far notably quiet Rohnert Park campaign season, one would be hard pressed to tell that $3 million a year for the city budget is at stake Nov. 5.

On that day’s election ballot is Measure A, a bid to indefinitely extend a half-percent city sales tax that voters approved in 2010. Officials credit the tax with helping restore Rohnert Park to fiscal stability.

If the measure passes, the tax would remain in place until the council voted unanimously to end it or voters chose to do so through another ballot measure.

Rohnert Park City Hall.

Rohnert Park City Hall.

No organized opposition has surfaced thus far. And with a little more than two weeks to go before polls open, supporters have just begun erecting signs and knocking on voters’ doors.

The tax brings in just over $3 million a year for the general fund and originally was pitched as a five-year stopgap measure to help the city climb back to solid fiscal ground.2

But Rohnert Park still faces a deficit of between $1.4 and $1.8 million. Its finances also have been hampered by the state-ordered dissolution of redevelopment agencies, which resulted in the loss of millions of dollars used for affordable housing, targeted spending to boost economic development, and infrastructure projects.

So officials are making no bones about how crucial maintaining the tax is to them.

“It’s extremely important,” said Mayor Pam Stafford. “It helps keep so many things going.”

She acknowledged that asking to make permanent what was a short-term tax is hardly an ideal political position, but she characterized the measure as continuing a tax rather than adding a new one.

“I’m not big on throwing taxes out there at people; I really don’t like to do that,” she said. “But working with our budget as intimately as I do, I know exactly where we get our money from and we just really need this to continue.”

The tax measure won in 2010 with the support of 55 percent of voters, raising the city’s sales tax rate to 8.75 percent. It has been used to fund police and fire services, operations at the senior, community and performing arts centers, and roadwork.

“We have no way of making up $3 million in revenue in the next two years,” said City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, who joined the city the year the tax measure was passed.

“We would basically have to look at complete elimination of services, and further reduction of services” without that revenue, said Gonzalez, who leaves for a new position in Kansas on Nov. 7.

The Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers Association has thrown its weight behind the measure, as it did with the original tax. The union has paid for signs throughout the city, and officers have joined in neighborhood walks to rally support from residents.

“We’re prepared to pay or contribute enough money to make sure the word gets out on the importance of passing Measure A,” said Sgt. Jeff Nicks, the union’s president.

The indefinite nature of the extension is off-putting to some residents.

“If there were an end date, I’d vote for it so the city could make up the rest of the money that they’re still in the hole for,” said Lorreen Abbott.

“But the way it stands, I’m not going to vote for it, because it’s not going to end unless someone does something to overturn it,” said Abbott, 68, a retired Santa Rosa city employee.

Other voters are still making up their minds.

Sonoma State University junior Amairani Hernandez, 19, said she has yet to study the measure in full. But as a new city resident — she moved this year from Los Angeles — her first impulse is to support it.

“I’d probably just vote to keep it the same because it seems like the community needs it,” Hernandez said.

Others have decided.

Shawn Jackson, an attorney, said the measure’s strongest suit is that, as a city sales tax, its revenues cannot be accessed by the state.

“I don’t think there’s a choice; the choice is either a reduction in services or an increase in revenue,” Jackson said. “And the only increase in revenue that makes sense is the one that the state and the feds can’t touch.”

The tax measure needs a simple majority to pass.

A sense among voters that things have stabilized after years of crisis may account for the lack of controversy, said Brian Sobel, a political consultant in Petaluma.

“And whatever pain was incurred (with the sales tax) was incurred a while ago,” he said. “People have a much greater tendency to say, ‘As long as something’s not being mismanaged, I can continue to support it.’”

An opinion poll commissioned by the city this summer found that 67 percent of residents thought the city was headed in the right direction, while 21 percent thought it was on the wrong track.

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)





14 Responses to “Rohnert Park sales tax extension faces little opposition”

  1. Jim says:

    Per Article…“We have no way of making up $3 million in revenue in the next two years,” said City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, who joined the city the year the tax measure was passed.

    Isn’t the language amazing…”make up” the revenue. HOW ABOUT CUTTING SPENDING???

    If I ran any of my businesses like the government I’d be bankrupt in 6 months. Yet, every city, county and state constantly seeks more and more “revenue” (i.e. money taken OUT of the economy and wasted on bloated programs and unnecessary departments with unneeded employees). Why are voters so stupid? Why do they only see “R” vs “D” rather than the truth…every politician is a liar, a thief and/or a criminal. The same idiots are re-elected over and over while the problem is ignored.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Follower says:

    @Ilegal
    I suspect Prop13 was started by someone who opened their property tax bill & passed out!

    But the thieves who sent you your “bill” made damn sure “the people” suffered as much as possible as retribution for passing that Initiative.

    Just like Obama closing down the War Memorial, actually SPENDING MORE money to close it than it would have cost to just leave it open.

    Like the worms of the CA Government in the 70’s, our current admin has the POWER to use the reduced tax revenue to inflict as much pain as possible to teach us a lesson.

    And they WILL! …and it WILL hurt!!

    What Prop13 taught us is that just cutting their budget isn’t the solution. We need to first cut their POWER over us and since the voters seem to enjoy giving them more power & more money with each election I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    They have a firm grip on us and they will squeeze every penny they can until we break.
    And if you know anything at all about history, there will come a breaking point and it won’t be pretty.

    Pay your property taxes or they’ll take your property & kick you out on the street.
    Unless of course you’ve also failed to buy Health Insurance, then your local IRS agent will be providing you with nice cozy jail cell!

    REMEMBER WHO DID THIS TOO YOU!

    Take note… while they’re still sporting their “Obama2012” bumper stickers!

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  3. Elephant says:

    Ilegal is Legal –
    Most of the governmental financial problems in California are due to a nasty loophole in Prop 13 that allow corporations to pay a small amount of their share in property taxes.

    This article should shock you.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/05/local/la-me-dell-property-20130505

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  4. David says:

    Sure the Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers Association supports it, they get the lions share of the RP taxes. The tribe is supposed to give the City 12 plus million a year, use the tribe money and leave the tax payers alone! Rumors have it the City has been “cooking the books” for the last few years. Maybe the Press Democrat should do some investigating and do some real reporting for a change.

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  5. Ilegal is Legal says:

    Does anyone know how Prop 13 was started? We need to get another Prop 13 in acted. If you have information then please do share. I just received my property tax bill, opened it, and passed out! I can’t even sell my house for what the thieves are trying to extort from me. Geez!

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  6. James Bennett says:

    Regressive tax…

    or Progressive tax.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  7. Jim says:

    This is a great example of what happens when the Sheeple approve higher/new taxes. The government spends every freaking penny, and cries for more.

    “Temporary” taxes are a joke. Let’s make sure this passes because the thieves in government need this “indefinite” tax to survive…until they come back for more.

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  8. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: David Stubblebine – “Your assessment is only true if the rich and the poor make exactly the same purchases.”

    I would agree; as an example, who’s paying the most sales tax when a ‘rich’ person buys a $80k automobile, vs. the ‘poor’ person who buys a $2,500 clunker? Who spends the most at Lowe’s or Friedman’s? Who spends the most at the furniture stores? Who buys that recreational boat or motorhome, or Harley? In shear dollars collected, it’s the ‘rich’. Or more appropriately, the people who went to college and got a career.

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  9. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @DS – Sales Tax is generally considered to be a regressive tax, since the wealthy spend less on taxable goods and services as a percentage of income than middle class or poorer individuals. We make it somewhat less regressive by exempting food, which makes up a much larger percentage of spending for the poor than for the wealthy.

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  10. Graeme Wellington says:

    Many good points by David Stubblebine. My only concern is the way the police chief is using fear to get people to vote for it.

    A better leader with higher integrity standards would be pledging to use the tax money wisely instead of detailing all the dire consequences of not passing the tax measure.

    The police chief’s “pitch” just raises a red flag in my mind. Can we vote for the tax and vote for a different leader at Public Safety? I guess not. I’m hoping a golden parachute for the Public Safety Director is the first use of the new tax money.

    RIP Bob Dennett – one of RP’s founding fathers who made a difference. Masterson will be quickly forgotten.

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  11. David Stubblebine says:

    @Richard: Your assessment is only true if the rich and the poor make exactly the same purchases. I would expect people with the greater income would buy more things and perhaps pay more for similar things. I know of no studies on this topic so I am guessing, same as you, but I bet this tax is more proportional to income than you surmise.

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  12. RICHARD says:

    Sales tax is bad because it’s regressive.

    Those with the lowest incomes pay proportionally the highest tax.

    Those with highest incomes, pay proportionally the lowest tax.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  13. James Bennett says:

    Bragging?

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  14. David Stubblebine says:

    Rohnert Park voters should love this measure; Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Penngrove voters should hate it. In a way, that’s the beauty of it.

    Rohnert Park voters have the chance to tax out-of-towners to support services within the City. It’s a beautiful thing! Santa Rosa has already done this to Rohnert Park citizens who shop there and Petaluma continues to explore doing the same thing. The biggest problem with this tax is that it should have been enacted years earlier.

    Continuing this minute tax does three important things: 1) It brings significant revenues into the City from outside the City; 2) It creates revenues that cannot be raided by Sacramento; and 3) It affords the City a measure of fiscal independence from the casino. All good things for the people of Rohnert Park! – and only costing a half a percent on the things we buy.

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