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Cotati declares fiscal emergency, eyes tax hike

  • An aerial view of Old Redwood Highway in Cotati. (PD File)

Cotati has declared a fiscal emergency, thus taking the first step toward extending the life of Measure A, the 2010 voter-approved sales-tax measure, and doubling its size.

The council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to approve the fiscal statement, a precursor to asking voters this summer to approve an additional sales-tax measure – this one a one-percent tax — when the half-percent Measure M tax expires in 2015.

In 2010, Cotati became one of the cities in Sonoma County to raise its local sales-tax rate as the recession forced major cutbacks in municipal staffing and services.

In the past few years, Cotati reduced its workforce by 28 percent, trimmed employee benefits and cut back the $4.86 million general fund budget.

“We have made every cut possible and it is our responsibility to maintain current service levels, prevent more severe cuts and maintain our status as a viable, independent city,” City Manager Dianne Thompson said in a statement announcing the fiscal emergency.

In 2009, the city was staggering under a $530,000 general fund deficit. In April 2010, voters passed Measure A, increasing Cotati's sales tax rate for five years.

It raised about $750,000 each of the last two years. With the tax hike's sunset date approaching, the council agreed voters should be asked to extend it.

“It did exactly what it was supposed to,” said Councilman Mark Landman. “It maintained the police department and kept the city going.”

The declaration of a fiscal emergency is a statement by the council that revenues and budget cuts are insufficient to avoid further reductions in city services that would decrease Cotati's quality of life and hurt its long-term financial viability, Thompson said.

The council will consider a new ballot measure at its meeting Feb. 25.

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

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