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Cotati to put sales tax hike before voters in June

The Cotati City Council on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to ask voters to approve a sales tax increase this year, extending and doubling a half-cent hike citizens approved four years ago.

Saying the city needs a “dependable, local source of funds” to stay viable and protect itself from state funding vagaries, the council voted 5-0 to put the issue to voters in a special election June 3.

The new measure would extend a five-year, half-cent tax increase that voters passed in 2010. If approved, the increases would expire after nine years.

While the city made huge cuts — 28 percent in staffing and 11 percent to its general fund — the proceeds from Measure A haven't been enough to rescue the city from financial doom, City Manager Dianne Thompson said.

The loss of redevelopment tax funds to the state, increased employee health and pension costs and the expiration of Measure A would be devastating to the city's approximately $5 million budget, she said.

“It's a huge percentage and clearly not sustainable,” she said.

More than two dozen speakers commented, about two-thirds saying they favored the tax hike if it can keep the city viable and allow it to retain its own police department. City leaders have discussed contracting with another city to provide police services if it could save money.

The proceeds from a 1 percent tax could total as much as $2 million annually, according to a staff report. A special election will cost between $10,000 and $13,600. The tax rate would increase Cotati's local rate from the current 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent.

Many speakers said the tiny increase the tax would tack onto purchases would neither deter them from spending money in Cotati, nor negatively affect local businesses.

“I don't want cuts in services. I don't want less,” said Richard Senghas. “It's an issue of scale. It's a very small increase. It's a fraction of a cup of coffee.”

“It's 5 cents per $10, please people,” implored Robin Birdfeather.

Brian Ling, the executive director of the Sonoma County Alliance business advocacy group, said while he “fundamentally is against it,” the city likely has no other choice than to seek additional funds locally.

Resident Steven Gold, though, said he wants to know more before committing.

“I don't feel the information is enough to convince me of the necessity,” he said. “So far the evidence has not been convincing.”

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

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