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Sebastopol places sales tax increase on November ballot

The Sebastopol City Council on Tuesday voted uninanimously to put a measure on the November ballot to raise the city's sales tax to 8.75 percent, which would be the highest in Sonoma County.

The proposed half-percent increase would generate about $1 million a year — the equivalent of 20 percent of the current general fund budget — and would expire in eight years.

Councilmembers said having a sunset clause will make it more likely that voters will approve the ballot measure.

“We don't really know if we need one,” said Vice-Mayor Michael Kyes, referring to a sunset clause, “but we can't afford to have the tax measure fail, either. It's like insurance.”

The council has said the added revenue could be spent for such things as filling some of the five vacant city positions, including that of a police officer, street maintenance, park expansion and traffic improvements.

Because it is a general propose tax, a simple majority of yes votes is needed for passage. A specific-purpose sales tax requires two-thirds approval.

Several members of the audience spoke in support of the tax measure, although some questioned whether it should be a quarter-percent increase rather than a half-percent.

“I definitely want to support the tax, but do we want to put out that Sebastopol will have the highest tax in the county?” said Colin Doyle.

Previously, the lone holdout on the council was Kathleen Shaffer, but she changed her vote Tuesday, saying she believes the tax increase is necessary.

“This will be one of the hardest votes I will have to make here on the council, but I have to make sure we are fiscally solid,” she said. “I still oppose the tax, but I am voting because the city needs it,” she said.

The tax would be in addition to the current quarter-percent sales tax that voters approved in 2004.

The city is among a number of municipalities in Sonoma County that have had sales tax increases recently or are asking for them in November.

Healdsburg will also have a half-percent increase on the November ballot, while the Petaluma City Council is debating a sales tax measure.

Sonoma voters on June 5 approved a half-percent increase, Santa Rosa approved quarter-percent increases in 2004 and 2010, and Cotati and Rohnert Park approved half-percent increases in 2010.

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